When the FCC raided TOUCH FM in Boston this spring, many lamented its demise. But its frequency didn’t stay silent for long: less than two months after the FCC’s sweep of the city, a pop-up station temporarily reoccupied 106.1 FM.
Noises Over Norwell broadcast from a two-story home in Dorchester currently under the receivership of Fannie Mae. Its former owners moved back in with the assistance of City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting economic injustice in Boston. The station was a cornucopia of information, discussion, and creativity about the state of the economy and the surrounding neighborhood; when "dormant," you simply heard the ambient sounds of a lived-in home.
TOUCH FM founder Charles Clemons appeared on Noises Over Norwell to wholeheartedly endorse its mission and the notion of radio as a medium for change. The station itself was organized by John Hulsey, an artist and Harvard graduate student who recognizes the symbiosis between pirate radio and social movements. "The same communities that are being pushed out of their homes are being shunted out of the media landscape," Hulsey told Marisa Mazria Katz.
"From a broader view, we can see both shelter and public discourse as basic public goods. If we don’t affirm and protect these as foundational building blocks of civil society, we begin to move in a dangerous direction."
But the magic only lasted three days, until the Boston Police raided the house and put couple that had lived there back out on the street. Nobody lost any other possessions—including the station, whose gear is now packed away for another day. Noises Over Norwell flew completely under the FCC’s radar.
Hulsey says mission accomplished: "One day there was an empty house on a street where most people are struggling to pay rent and regularly face eviction; the next day there was a big group of people occupying that house and celebrating one another’s presence with broad public support. It’s important right now just to remember that we have the power to do that."
Noises Over Norwell is a direct echo of the origin-story of modern microradio in the United States. Mbanna Kantako inspired the movement nearly 30 years ago by launching WTRA—a station to protest the closure of public housing in Springfield, Illinois. Despite eviction and repeated FCC enforcement actions, Kantako and his station (now named Human Rights Radio) remain on the air today.
Stephen Dunifer, the founder of Free Radio Berkeley, has long advocated pop-up microbroadcasting as an effective means of electronic civil disobedience. He told me in 2000 that "if you’re concerned about the FCC coming knocking at your door, go out and set up your transmitter up at your local flea market, at a concert, or a rally, or whatever. Because the FCC, in the history of [microradio], has yet to hassle people doing it as a one-up event. First of all, they don’t even know it’s there, and secondly, there’s a huge crowd, and we’ve found the FCC…prefer to work in the dark, so to speak. That is, they don’t like to be exposed publicly for what they’re doing."
Not only do pop-up stations amplify the impact of every event they’re associated with, they also "educate people in the community [about microbroadcasting] and it tends to demystify the whole process….There’s lots of creative ways to use this." I can personally vouch for that, having helped organize or participated in several event-broadcasts, ranging from house parties to disaster triage to mass airwave occupations of major metro markets.
Stations like Noises Over Norwell are the essence of tactical broadcasting. Let thousands more like it bloom.