Telecom Backlash and the Second Rise of LPFM
Following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as more and more stations began to be controlled by less and less people, some disenfranchised listeners took it upon themselves to make change. Borrowing Dunifer's argument about public access to the airwaves as justification, these people set up their own stations and began broadcasting without licenses.
Some of these people were electronics hobbyists; others were activists; quite a few were in the radio industry themselves. Station operators ranged from contrarians in Pennsylvania to club promoters in Ohio to patriots in Washington State.
It doesn't take much money to put a micropower station on the air, and because the power levels often used were under 100 watts (a la the old Class D license), there was room on the dial to be found for them.
As the movement grew various electronics manufacturers jumped into the market with their own kit designs, while others began offering pre-assembled and tested transmitters. This brought the price down even further, while raising the quality of the equipment - and, ultimately, the broadcasts.
More and more people began to find their radio voices: by 1998 hundreds of microradio stations had taken to the air. By the FCC's count, it closed down more than 250 of them that year, although documentation to back up this claim is nearly impossible to find.
FCC Smackdown Backfires
However, what was known about FCC busts were enough to spur others to action. For example, patriot Arthur Lonnie Kobres and radio electronics businessman Doug Brewer set up microradio stations in Lutz and Tampa, Florida, respectively. They both ran their operations in full view, publicizing their activities and encouraging people to listen in, while ignoring repeated FCC warnings and visits.
Because of their brazenness, both were raided on November 19, 1997 - and in brutal fashion. Doug Brewer and his wife were handcuffed on the floor of their home while government agents, armed with automatic weapons, destroyed his radio station and parts of his home. Kobres was eventually arrested for running his radio station, and was convicted of a felony, becoming the first American ever to receive and serve a criminal sentence for broadcasting.
The perception of big government cracking down on individuals helped fan the flames of the microradio movement and spurred even more stations to take to the air.
Throughout the mid-1990s, the FCC was hit with a series of budget cutbacks that forced the agency to consolidate its enforcement offices into regional locations. This helped foster the growth of microradio, as the number of stations on the air overwhelmed the manpower available to police the airwaves.
What happened was a simple
act of civil disobedience. In a quintessential American way, microradio
stations allowed a non-violent method for people to air their grievances
with the state of radio. It was a good time for four people from widely
differing backgrounds to petition the FCC to bring low-power stations
back to life - legally.