Microradio Stations

Confronting the FCC and Defending Your Micropower Station From Being Shut Down

Everything is going great with your micropower station, and then comes that knock on the door - an FCC agent or two demanding to inspect your station. What do you do ? In response to this Free Radio Berkeley IRATE has prepared this legal defense packet to answer that question and prepare you for that dreaded knock. A number of stations have merely folded their tent and gone silent in response to the first visit or letter from the FCC. This is a result of folks not knowing their rights and responding from a position of fear not strength. When you know your rights, prepare ahead of time, and respond in a proactive manner you will assure the continued operation of your station for months if not years after the first FCC visit.

First, the FCC will does not do very well when it comes to public relations. Its agents are not trained to deal with the media. Anything you can do to put them in the media spotlight will usually be to your advantage. Every time the FCC makes a move against your station send a press release to the media. In this release succinctly state your case and frame it as a First Amendment issue. Highlight the ever increasing concentration of media resources into fewer and fewer hands and how this prevents all but the wealthy and powerful from having a voice.

Be certain that everyone associated with the station knows their rights and won’t freak out at the presence of the FCC. Included in this packet is “What to do when the FCC Knocks”. Make copies of this for everyone to read and keep. Post it in your studio. Before you even begin broadcasting find an attorney who will be on call if you need legal assistance. No one should use their real name on the air or identify themselves to the FCC. Without any legal names it is much more difficult for the FCC to proceed legally. Usually the course of events is as follows. You will receive a letter from the FCC taking notice of your operation.

Sometimes the letter will be presented as part of their visit to your station. This letter will state that if your persist in unlicensed operations you will be subject to possible fines or jail. In order to either collect a fine or begin criminal proceedings the FCC has to present their case to a Federal court. Despite fines being assessed against a number of people they have yet to go to court in order to collect the fines since this would open their process to possible Constitutional scrutiny. Likewise for the criminal proceedings as well. So far there have only been only one or two instances of actual criminal prosecution.

It is important to defend your station in a militant manner. Included in this packet is the “Pledge of Resistance Form”. As a Free Speech voice your station should be serving the community in such a manner that your listeners feel it is a valuable resource worth defending. Circulate this pledge and get as many signers as possible. When you have gotten at least 100-200 signers send out a press release stating that x number of people have agreed to physically defend the station, include a copy of the form. This will put the FCC on notice that they will not have easy job. Building a sense of solidarity and creating a strong alliance with your community is very important. Threats and intimidation are the FCC’s main means of shutting down stations.

If those tactics fail they may obtain a seizure order from a Federal judge. This is done in a secret hearing without any opposing counsel representing your station being present. With such an order the FCC can literally bust down the door if necessary with Federal Marshals and take your equipment. In order to counter that threat the National Lawyers Guild Committee on Democratic Communications has crafted the legal documents that will be required by your attorney to file suit against the FCC in an attempt to prevent the possible seizure of your equipment. This legal action challenges the Constitutionality of the FCC’s seizure authority. Once you receive your first letter from the FCC you have legal standing to file suit in Federal District Court. It is important that as many micropower stations as possible do this.

First, if accepted by the court, it will take months and months for the wheels of justice to turn - it took the FCC 4 years to finally get an injunction against Free Radio Berkeley. Secondly, it will tie up the legal resources of the FCC which is a rather small agency which must take up the time of an attorney from the local Federal Attorneys office every time they engage in a new legal case. Imagine the consequences from the FCC having to respond to dozens of these suits being filed.

Winning your suit knocks out the immediate seizure authority and forces the FCC to go through a series of administrative procedures before any further legal action can be undertaken. Even not winning buys months of time. And, of course, you can appeal your case to the Federal Appeals Court adding many more months to the process. Taken as a whole strategy these steps will greatly increase not only the survivability of your station but will also do much to further strengthen the micropower broadcasting movement. For further information check the following web sites:


Contact Free Radio Berkeley IRATE (International Radio Action Training Education) directly if you any have any questions: frbspd@crl.com or 510-549-0732. Stephen Dunifer - Free Radio Berkeley IRATE, 1442 A Walnut St., PMB 406, Berkeley, CA 94709

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