Micro Radio Under Attack!

Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 20:46:59 -0800 (PST)
From: Tom Burghardt <tburghardt@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Micro Radio Under Attack!

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     By Travis Lea and A. Clay Thompson
     17 December 1997
     In a fine example of Catch-22ism, the Federal Communications
     Commission (FCC) has argued in court that a citizen cannot
     claim the FCC has denied his right to broadcast because he
     has not applied for a license which the FCC has refused to
     issue. This is only the latest twist in a long-term struggle
     which pits low-power "rebel" radio broadcasters against the
     agency and the broadcast industry, according to PNS
     correspondents Travis Lea and A. Clay Thompson. Lea is a
     producer at YO! Radio which airs on radio stations across
     the country; Thompson is a writer based in San Francisco.
     It's an air war. But the battles are being fought in
courtrooms -- with occasional skirmishes at scattered sites
around the country between rounds.
     At stake is low-power or micropower broadcasting, radio
stations that transmit their signal with less than 100 watts of
power. (Most major stations have 50,000 watts -- 500 times that
     Such stations have only very limited range -- some half-watt
stations now operating can only be heard for a few blocks around.
This means they have little appeal to advertisers, and great
attraction to highly individual broadcasters.
     One such broadcaster is Stephen Dunifer who runs the 40-watt
"Free Radio Berkeley" from his home in Berkeley, California.
     In 1993, the Federal Communications Commission -- acting on
its own 1978 regulations that applicants for a radio license must
use a transmitter with at least 100 watts -- fined Dunifer
$20,000 for broadcasting illegally and ordered him to go off the
     Dunifer fought back, arguing the FCC rule interfered with
freedom of speech, especially as the cost of owning a
conventional station is now hundreds of thousands of dollars or
more. The FCC asked the court to issue an injunction, shutting
Dunifer down.
     The court refused -- in what looked like a victory for
Dunifer and his allies, Federal District Court Judge Claudia
Wilken ruled against the FCC on November 12. In an appeal just
filed, the FCC claims that Dunifer cannot say he has been denied
the right to broadcast because he has never applied for a
license. "The constitutional challenge to a licensing regulation,
therefore, is not ripe for adjudication."
     But Dunifer points out that he did not apply for a license
because the FCC rules, issued nearly 20 years ago, clearly deny
low-power stations the right to operate.
     Radio rebels claim that the FCC retaliated with raids on
stations in several states.
     Barely a week after the ruling was handed down, at 6:30 a.m.
November 19, thunderous knocking brought Doug Brewer to the front
door of his home in Tampa, Florida.
     "I'm looking out and see maybe two faces and fourteen rifle
muzzles," recounts Brewer. What he saw was a Multi-Jurisdictional
Task Force comprised of agents from US Customs, local police,
local sheriffs, a SWAT team, and the Federal Communications
Commission, many of them pointing laser-guided assault rifles at
his direction.
     Brewer, 43, runs "Tampa's Party Pirate" an unlicensed
micropower FM station. He says the Task Force detained him and
his wife for 12 hours while officials ransacked their house in
search of micro-broadcasting equipment. Brewer says they seized
everything they could, including a picture of one of his
revolutionary inspirations: Jesus Christ.
     Brewer believes the FCC used him as an example after their
field officer came out looking foolish in a recent front-page
story in the Wall Street Journal. He claims the agency "broke
freedom of speech by creating a heavy monetary seizure."
     The same week the FCC raided two other illegal Florida
stations and WSKR-FM, a black-run pirate station in West
     Dunifer, outraged by the raids, says the FCC "shows a basic
contempt for due process, the Bill of Rights, and the US
Constitution -- that's what it shows." Dunifer thinks the FCC is
acting at the behest of the National Association of Broadcasters
(NAB), an organization that represents licensed TV and radio
stations. The FCC claims that micropower stations can interfere
with important radio communications. Radio rebels say they
operate on completely different frequencies, and that the issue
is simply one of access.
     Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, the FCC has appealed Judge
Wilken's ruling by claiming that Dunifer has no free speech claim
because he did not apply for the license they will not issue --
an argument Dunifer claims is simply a diversion.
     "They never respond in a substantive manner," he says,
describing the FCC legal time as "hacks who were formerly
lobbyists for the broadcast industry." He points out that the new
chair of the FCC was formerly a lobbyist for the NAB, and will
offer a transcript of an April NAB conference that details its
opposition to microbroadcasting.
     The FCC reply also claims Wilken's court has no jurisdiction
over FCC rules. But the agency itself recently brought a similar
case to a district court in Arizona, and had no quarrel when it
ruled in the FCC's favor.
     Copyright 1997 Pacific News Service
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