On Tuesday, April 7, the micro-power group showed up at the Convention
Center entrance carrying picket signs and a couple of 40 foot banners.
Most wore gags over their mouths with "FCC" and "NAB" written on them.
The signs featured slogans like "Don't let them NAB our airwaves", "FCC
= Full Corporate Control" and "NAB - the real pirates". A lot of attention
drawn to their cause and the gags were removed only to explain the issues to interested passer-bys. After about 45 minutes, Convention Center security and Las Vegas police officers requested that group leave the property or be cited for trespassing. Greg Peck, a Nevada ACLU lawyer was on hand to deal with the police and the demonstration proved to be a peaceful one as the group was allowed to continue the protest on city property just outside the gates of the Convention Center. Local and national TV news covered the protest as well as Time magazine, who printed a full page report (April 20th cover date, page 4) on the micro-power movement. For the most part, the
coverage was even-handed and the 1st amendment issues and the Telecom Act of 1996 were documented.
Inside the convention center the NAB folks held a panel discussion
called "Pirate Radio - Should They Walk The Plank?" On hand as a panelist
was Louis Hiken, the San Francisco attorney who represents Free
Radio Berkeley and has succeeded in introducing 1st Amendment arguments
into Federal court, thus allowing Free Radio Berkeley to continue broadcasting
(at least for now).
This despite requests from the FCC for an injunction and stiff fines. Besides Hiken, the panel was made up of Richard Lee from the FCC's Compliance and Information Bureau; Christopher Wright, General counsel for the FCC; and John Fiorini, an attorney for the Radio Operator's Caucus. The
moderator was Jack Goodman of the NAB. Clearly the purpose of inviting Hiken to sit on the panel was for him to serve as the sacrificial lamb.
Reporter Jennifer Barrios, in an article
covering the panel written for the Slingshot newspaper (Berkeley),
stated that, despite the stacked odds, Hiken
did make some points with the pro-media audience. Hiken's defense of
unlicensed micro-broadcasters hinges on 1st Amendment issues and how the
Telecom Act of 1996 took community voices off the airwaves by allowing
massive corporate takeover of existing licenses. (This Act has been covered
extensively in past issues of Live! Music Review.) Wright's response was
that "The pirate radio broadcasters are wrapping themselves up in the First
Amendment flag, but in reality the issue is Section 301 of the Communications
Act of 1934 - broadcasters need a license to broadcast." Despite complaints
from some of the audience members about signal interference and "the non-stop
profanity of rap lyrics being played on some of the pirate stations", Hiken
scored with others and a number of them
approached him when the panel subsided to express their support. Even the FCC is now taking a look at rule changes allowing for micro power stations. FCC Chairman William Kennard has shown some interest in creating special low power licenses for community radio. The FCC had a filing
deadline for rule-making proposals of April 26th. Several plans for micro power radio were submitted including one by the National Lawyer's Guild Committee For Democratic Communication. Theirs is basically a plan that will allocate unused portions of the radio band for non-commercial,
community-orientated stations - not to exceed 50 watts in urban (congested) areas or 100 watts in rural areas. Kennard seems to be favoring an internal FCC proposal for 1 watt licenses to be issued to "church groups or other non-profit organizations." There is also a proposal for low wattage
If Kennard is sympathetic to the community radio cause, the FCC's
actions have not been any indication. Just days before the NAB convention
a micro-power station run by a professor and his students at Jersey City
State College in New Jersey was forced to shut down their 7 watt station.
Calling themselves KMAD, they had been
broadcasting since February 1997. At the
panel on pirate radio, Lee assured (licensed) broadcasters that the FCC would be intensifying their enforcement. The FCC shut down 97 unlicensed stations in 1997 and had already shut down 65 more in 1998 at the time of the NAB convention. Since the convention they have also shut down or
attempted to shut down stations in San Marcos, TX, Chewellah, WA, Leander, TX, Oroville, WA, Cleveland, OH, Pontiac, MI (run by a Pentecostal Minister), Athens, GA and 2 in the Tampa region (1 of those being operated by a preacher from his Baptist church) among others. However, the FCC may be outnumbered. As public awareness and support grows, micro-power stations continue to spring up all over the country. By the FCC's own admission, there are now probably in excess of 1,000 micro-power stations across America, many finding support among universities, churches,
urban black liberation groups, survivalist groups, ethnic areas with no foreign language stations nearby, extremely desolate areas with little radio coverage at all (i.e. Indian reservations). The FCC also admits to receiving over 10,000 inquiries about how to start a low power station in 1997. (Their
answer is that you can't do it legally.) At the Las Vegas micro-power gathering, organizers vowed to start up 10 new stations for every one shut down. Some stations, like Radio Mutiny from West Philly and Steal This Radio from Manhattan's Lower East Side, have embarked on "road tours" where they visit areas interested in starting micro stations to explain and demonstrate the ease and low cost of maintaining such an operation. They also give instructional seminars at colleges stressing that "clean" signals are an important part of the micropower movement. Community service and
non-economic goals are also stressed. The organizers of the Las Vegas gathering even donated a fully functioning transmitter and antenna to the Shundahai Network, a Native American ecology group fighting a proposed nuclear dump site north of Las Vegas. In defiance of the FCC, on April 15th (tax day) a number of stations that had been previously shut down returned to the airwaves as an expression of their 1st Amendment rights. And probably most frustrating for Chairman Kennard is that after the raids on several stations following the NAB convention a Micropower Bust Response Network was set up. There are no dues for the network - all you have to do is pledge to call in a protest to Mr. Kennard's office between 11 AM and 1 PM on the Monday following any FCC action against any other member station. (An FCC action is described as a warning letter, a visit, A Notice Of Apparent Liability or an equipment seizure.) Kennard's choice of material for shower
vocalizing must now almost certainly include the Boomtown Rat's "I Don't Like Mondays." Clearly, the FCC is losing the battle when it comes to putting an end to micro-power broadcasting.
While publicly stating that they don't fear any competition for
listeners from micro-stations, the behind-the-scenes actions of commercial
stations indicate something else entirely. The Minnesota Broadcasters Association
has joined with a number of other state broadcasting associations to hire
the Washington D.C. based law firm of Fisher, Wayland, Cooper, Leader &
Zaragoza for the purpose of drafting comments to the FCC opposing microbroadcasting.
In a letter to the MBA (the same group that brought pressure on Beat Radio
- see 2/98 issue of L!MR) membership, the Association's Jim du Bois urged
members to oppose any FCC regulation legalizing low power licenses and
to contact their Congressmen but to "avoid arguments that the proposed
service would create more competition." Television Digest (4/13/98) called the FCC inquiry looking toward authorized microbroadcasting a "major concern".
An example? Recently the FCC was entertaining a rule change that would require a limited amount of free air time to politicians running for office. This would mean that local people with limited campaign funding would have some measure of exposure, just like the powerful and elite sponsored by personal wealth and large political parties (read Democrats or Republicans - Republicrats if you will). It would also mean a severe loss of revenue for the commercial stations as political advertising fees are among the highest forms of income. When it looked as if this new rule change would be approved 3 months ago, members of the NAB approached their bought-and-paid-for Congressmen who in turn threatened the FCC that funding would not be renewed if such a rule change were made. The rule change was killed.
One of the biggest complaints that we get at L!MR is that radio "sucks". No variety. No diversity. As a person who travels the United States from coast to coast in a car I can attest to that. There is no regionalism in radio any more - no community voice. I recently drove from central Missouri to Maine and back, a 3,000 mile round trip. I drove to the Vegas micropower gathering and back - another 2500 miles in the opposite direction. Every rock station was playing the identical 50 or 60 songs. Heavy rotation consisted of the new Foo Fighters and Jerry Cantrell singles - the same two songs being played ad nauseum on over 100 different stations. Do their new albums not contain any other songs? Are there no local bands worthy of airplay on these stations?
Talk radio? Where are the local programs? No matter where you
are it's Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, G. Gordon Liddy, Bruce Williams (who
I like but that's besides the point), and a half-dozen other syndicated
talk shows. If you do happen to luck out and get a local show it's usually
the area buffoon doing his best to imitate Howard Stern or the "sports
guys" who are the only ones
laughing at their own jokes a la ESPN. Community programming doesn't exist anymore.
Here's an example. Jacor, a corporate giant, recently paid $2.65
million to buy out a Hispanic group that owned KDIF in Riverside, CA. Jacor
already owns over 200 stations nationwide as well as Premiere Radio Networks,
a syndicator providing such programs as Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Doctor
Dean Edell and Art Bell. Can someone please tell me how such programming
and benefits the community? What similarities does Springfield, MO (where affiliated station KWTO carries all those programs) have with Riverside, CA? Other than Taco Bell, K-Mart, Best Buy or Comp USA?
If the airwaves truly belong to the people, radio must not become
a part of the cultural assassination of America. Any organized opposition
to microbroadcasting by the NAB and other industry associations must be
countered by the people who listen at the other end of the signal. We must
notify our Congressman that low power community radio is a vital part of the equation for balanced broadcasting. Tell your Congressman that he should encourage the FCC to make rule changes following the guidelines set up in the proposal made by the National Lawyer's Guild Committee for Democratic Communication. And if he doesn't, then utilize your vote to remove his fat ass from office. In their letters to their corporate constituents, both Eric Rhoads and Jim du Bois called 1st Amendment claims by the micropower movement "a guise". That simply is not so. Wrap yourself in the 1st Ammendment flag. Speak.