University of Memphis security officers homed in on a "pirate"
radio station broadcasting from a parking garage and knocked it off the
air for the second time in three months.
Officers arrested two women and a man Wednesday on suspicion of theft of services - using university electricity to power the unlicensed 20-watt FM station. They had not been charged as of late Thursday afternoon. Unlicensed operators also could be subject to federal fines and imprisonment.
The station broadcast commercial-free, politically left music and news, sometimes live, sometimes taped, and could be heard roughly within a 3-mile radius of the campus.
"Free Radio Memphis" was shut down in September by the Federal Communications Commission but was reborn Halloween night as "Black Cat Radio.''
A flier circulating around campus says, "Soon after the murder of Free Radio Memphis, the severed soul of the station coalesced and built a new body as dark as the shadows from which it emerged. It is pure sound, a vibration rich in the dark thoughts of the evening, with a voice that refuses to speak in the blindingly obvious light of day.''
Created by an organization called the Constructive Interference Collective, the station was broadcasting about four hours a night on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The seven-member collective is dedicated to legalizing microbroadcasting to "open the airwaves,'' said Kieran Crosswhite, a 34-year-old real estate agent-cum-disc jockey who hosted a midnight blues and poetry show on the station.
"Pirate radio, micro radio is too big to be silenced,'' said Crosswhite, who said he is not a member of the collective.
The startup station began broadcasting in May 1997 from a house on South Ellsworth but was shut down Sept. 23 when federal marshals and FCC officials confiscated the station's equipment.
On Wednesday, Richard Lane, chief engineer of WKNO-FM 91.1 used a directional frequency locator and pinpointed the station's signal atop the parking garage on Deloach next to the Fogelman Executive Center, according to a U of M arrest report.
The broadcast that day began at about 7 p.m. and was still airing at 8:48 p.m. when campus security was alerted.
Officers found a brown 1988 Dodge Caravan parked on the otherwise empty garage top.
Through the van's open rear hatch, officers saw the mobile radio station: a transmitter, antenna, coaxial cable and a meter that measures output to feedback.
The equipment was powered by lines running from the van and plugged into one of the garage's electrical outlets.
U of M security confiscated the equipment.
About 250 unlicensed radio stations nationwide "pirate" radio frequencies to broadcast illegally, said Marvin Bensman, U of M professor of broadcast law.
The FCC shuts down unlicensed stations, arguing their signals can interfere with licensed operations.
"They're being held without being charged for a crime. They're what I would consider to be political prisoners,'' said Jonathan Cook, 27, a U of M graduate student who as "Irregular Jonathan" hosted a political show with commentary and international music.
Whether the station is reborn again depends.
"The first thing we've got to do," Crosswhite said, "is get these people out of jail.''
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