St. Petersburg Times
January  29, 1999
FCC proposes low-tech radio from staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON--Community groups and churches could set up their own inexpensive FM stations, the FCC chairman says.

   The government took the first step Thursday toward creating a low-power, low-cost radio service that would help community groups, churches, students and ordinary people get on the air.

   The Federal Communications Commission, in a 4-1 vote, offered proposals to create thousands of new, licensed low-tech FM radio stations from 1 watt to 1,000 watts. It would reverse a roughly 20-year-old ban against such licenses.

   The proposals "could create a whole new class of voices using the airwaves . . . opportunities for churches and community groups . . . so many of whom feel that they are being frozen out of opportunities to become broadcasters," FCC Chairman Bill Kennard said.

   The FCC's action also responds to consolidation in the radio industry, which has made it increasingly difficult for minorities and community groups to make their voices heard.

   However, the news did not cheer a couple of  pirate radio broadcasters in Tampa.

   A skeptical Doug Brewer said the news sounded like "political positioning on the FCC's part because people have read the horror stories of the FCC kicking the doors in at 6 in the morning."

   Brewer said he has been trying to get a low-power license from the FCC for nearly four years "and all I got was raided by a SWAT team." Brewer, who was recently turned down by the FCC for an experimental low-power
broadcast license, had his home raided by police and FCC officials Nov. 19, 1997.

   Agents seized a garage full of microphones, headsets and low-power transmitters belonging to 102.1-FM, The Party Pirate. Brewer said he has yet to get a court hearing about getting his equipment back.

   Since then, Brewer has broadcast the Party Pirate mix of alternative rock and don't-tread-on-me attitude over the Internet, which is not subject to FCC regulations. Unlicensed micro-broadcasters like Brewer have
criticized the FCC for protecting monied radio conglomerates at the expense of original and community-oriented programming.

   "I will apply again, and I will keep and continue and work toward that end," Brewer said. "But I think now is the time to show what they are saying is true."

   Lonnie Kobres, the radio pirate who was convicted in February of broadcasting Lutz Community Radio without a license, questioned the FCC's authority. Among other complaints, Kobres has argued all along that short-range broadcasts that don't cross state lines should be regulated by the states, not the FCC.

   "They don't have the authority to do what they're intending to do," said Kobres, 55, who was sentenced to six months' house arrest and a $7,500 fine.

   In the last year, the FCC has received 13,000 inquiries from city governments, schools, churches and others wanting to start a low-power station.

   The FCC proposed that those who want to start a low-power station would have to meet the same licensing standards as existing higher-powered FM stations. To get a higher-power license, companies generally must show they want to serve a particular area. They must also provide information about any past criminal record.

   The process wouldn't automatically disqualify a person or group based on their political views - even if those views are considered offensive, FCC officials said.

   The FCC's proposals indicate that  pirate radio  operators who refused to follow FCC orders and were shut down before could have a tough time getting a low-powered license, FCC officials said.

   The radio industry opposes licensing new low-powered stations, saying the move would create interference with other radio stations.

(Times staff writers Bill Coats and Richard Danielson contributed to
this report.)