FCC Facilitated Right-Wing Hit Job on Workers Independent News

A year and a half since I tendered my Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission on its disturbing foray into determining the legitimacy of broadcast news outlets, the agency has finally responded. And it was with a big middle finger: of the more than 4,200 pages of documentation the agency identified as related to the case, the FCC released a paltry 88 (embedded at bottom).

The vast majority of this release is meaningless. It includes copies of the official orders in the WLS sponsorship-identification case, copies of the spot-sales contracts Workers Independent News entered into with WLS (it spent more than $33,000 to air its newscasts and feature programs on the station over a three-month period), official correspondence between the FCC and WLS’ attorneys related to the initial complaint inquiry, and some redacted e-mail correspondence between FCC staffers regarding the collection of the $44,000 fine assessed against WLS.

However, what little useful information gleaned from the disclosure only heightens the suspicion that the sponsorship-identification case against WLS was not motivated by the station’s failure to disclose (in a fraction of instances) that Workers Independent News had paid for its airtime, but rather by a right-wing operative seeking to muzzle Workers Independent News on ideological grounds. Read More

Regulatory Innuendo as Stalking Horse?

Never before has an FCC enforcement action hit so close to home.

This week, the agency issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for $44,000 to Chicago radio station WLS-AM. The proposed penalty stems from a complaint filed by a listener regarding news programming aired by WLS that originated with the Madison-based Workers Independent News (WIN) service. The FCC accuses WLS of violating its rules by failing to disclose that it was paid for running WIN newscasts.

(Disclosure: I was one of WIN’s founding producers, helping to develop and launch the service between 2001-2004.) Read More

Making Waves Plays Chicago

Michael Lahey’s excellent, award-winning documentary on microbroadcasting, Making Waves, publicly screens for the first time in the Windy City next weekend at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Actually, it’s playing twice, on 8/19 and 8/21. Check the new trailer before you go.

Michael recently moved to Chicago and may be around at the screenings for an afterward Q&A. If you can’t make the screenings, you can still check it out on Free Speech TV, where it’s been playing at least monthly. It’ll play five times on August 24th alone.

The Sound of Silence

It’s been nearly four years since the radio industry began feeding on itself, but it really didn’t hit home until just this month.

As a child, it seemed that WMAQ Radio (AM 670) was always on in my mother’s kitchen. The station had been around almost since radio broadcasting was born. WMAQ took to the air in Chicago in April of 1922. With 50,000 watts of power, WMAQ easily boomed through to southern Wisconsin, where I grew up.

WMAQ is probably best known for its firsts – it was the first station to broadcast a live transatlantic conversation; the first to do play-by-play of professional baseball games; it hosted the first educational radio program (FM radio broadcasting was still more than two decades away from reality). Read More