Thursday, December 17, 1998

Micro-stations, FCC not on same frequency

By Charlie Patton
Times-Union staff writer

Theoretically, government regulatory agencies exist to protect us from the big corporate giants who would use their power to crush the little guy. But the way it usually works is that it's the little guy who ends up getting crushed.

 This is the story about some little guys who, like a weed sprouting between the cracks in the public square, were soaking up the sunshine until the government showed up with a spray can full of Roundup.

 The little guys in this case are the members of the Free Radio Gainesville Collective, a group of about 30 Gainesville residents who pooled their energies and resources to create Free Radio Gainesville (94.7 FM), one of the many so-called micro-radio stations that have been springing up around the country the last five years.

 According to a posting on the Web site, which serves as sort of an online informational clearing house for the micro-radio movement, there are now as many as 1,000 of these small, unlicensed stations operating around the country.

 They are unlicensed and therefore illegal, because, since 1978, the FCC has refused to license stations smaller than 100 watts. But even a station that small requires an initial investment of about $250,000.

 That creates a situation in which only people with money can get into the radio business and in which stations must turn a profit. Thus a void is created ''by corporate culture with its bottom line agenda and narrow scope,'' to quote from the FRG manifesto.

 FRG went on the air in June, 1997, when the members of the collective pooled their resources to buy enough equipment to start broadcasting (though broadcasting may not be the right term for a 40-watt station which can't even be heard in all of Gainesville).

 FRG, which was managed by group decision, carried a mixture of music and political commentary, offering programs like The Insurgent Hour, All Things Not Considered, Skip's Hour of Technical Difficulties and Class War Radio.

 The FCC eventually took notice and last Nov. 30 agents confiscated $1,500 worth of equipment, shutting FRG down.

 I was unaware of the station's existence until contacted by Howard Rosenfeld, a 28-yearold University of Florida journalism graduate who supports himself by working as a secretary but devotes most of his energy and passion to FRG.

 Rosenfeld was seeking attention for a press conference the that will be held at noon today at the Alachua County Courthouse to publicize FRG's plight.

 There is a certain irony in Rosenfeld seeking my support since I represent what the manifesto characterizes as ''p- - yellow corporate journalism.''

 But I was young and angry once, so I'll let that go.

 And the fact the politics of the FRG Collective aren't likely to be popular with most Americans (''our commitment is to anarchism and anti-authoritarianism [and] smashing through brain-fences'' proclaims the manifesto) is reason to encourage, not squash them.

 No for-profit radio station is going to carry the kind of music (they give heavy play to local bands without record deals) or radical political talk they carry.

 There's a move afoot to get the FCC to relax its regulations so that micro-stations will be free to operate as long as there is an unused frequency available. In the freest country on earth, that would seem to make sense.