Bloch was one of those rare and lucky folks for whom activism was a full-time vocation. After working with Greenpeace throughout the 1980s, he created the Wetlands Preserve in New York City in 1989. The nightclub became a magnet for many bands that rose to fame out of the “alternative” music soup of the 1990s.
The 12-page ruling that came down earlier this spring, forbidding the station from taking to the air ever again, was only written after U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha extended rfb and the FCC a chance to negotiate some sort of amicable settlement. rfb proposed powering down in exchange for the FCC giving Vermont Earthworks expedited consideration of its LPFM application. The FCC refused (though the organization was awarded the right to build WVEW-LP anyway) and went to another federal court for a warrant to raid the station.
With a settlement thus impossible, Murtha had to make a ruling. So he did, and it pretty much tracked with my initial suspicions. He noted that rfb was statutorily barred from receiving an LPFM license; he employed the “jurisdictional wiggle”* to sidestep and otherwise ignore rfb’s constitutional challenges to the FCC licensing regime. He also denied rfb’s call for sanctions against the FCC for double-dipping the legal system in order to take the station off the air. The station had been fairly warned that a raid might be in the cards, and there’s no rule that limits the number of enforcement tools the FCC can employ at any given time. In these respects the decision falls on the unremarkable pile.
A short story reports that J. Garvan Murtha, the federal judge overseeing the FCC’s original case against the station, ruled in the FCC’s favor on March 31. The ruling contains a “John and Mary Doe” clause, which basically calls for a blanket ban on any unlicensed broadcasting within the community of Brattleboro.
Unfortunately, the story says nothing about the judge’s rationale. It does, however, quote station lawyer James Maxwell as saying that the station’s tactic of mustering community support for an alternate “authority to broadcast” is still valid: “The basic argument that a town gave an entity permission to broadcast still exists. That argument is still useable by other stations.”
When the FCC was denied an injunction against radio free brattleboro in March of 2004, Federal District Judge J. Garvan Murtha suggested the agency and station enter into talks to try to figure out a compromise whereby rfb might broadcast legally. Instead the FCC went to a Federal Magistrate and got a warrant to execute a station raid in June of 2005. Instead of playing ball with rfb, the FCC went and found a friendlier court. Justice in action?
This week radio free brattleboro’s attorney formally announced the collapse of all dialogue, as civil actions still wend their way through two courts in Vermont.
More newspapers now have articles on the raid of radio free brattleboro, and V-Man has an interview with station co-founder Larry Bloch. It sounds like the station is still absorbing the shock of the raid, especially since it was conducted during a time when the station was automated, thereby avoiding the outright conflict most raids cause. (FCC agents have already had one run-in with Brattleboro citizens before, which they didn’t seem to enjoy.)
The government estimates it stole about $15,000 worth of gear; the station had no backup cache. If I remember correctly rfb runs on a pretty involved consensus model, which means a rebound might take some time.