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Seize the Airwaves!

  • Deadline:
    Sept. 8, 2003, 10:36 p.m.

Day of Mass Electronic Civil Disobedience - October 17, 2003
by Stephen Dunifer - Free Radio Berkeley

Seize the Airwaves!
Break the Corporate Media's Stranglehold on the Free Flow of Information,
News, Music, Artistic Expression, and Cultural Creativity

Day of Mass Electronic Civil Disobedience
Celebrating International Media Democracy Day
Friday, October 17, 2003

You go to the demonstrations, write letters and email to Congress; and yet,
you feel as if your voice is not being heard. What if there was a way for
your voice, and the voices of your compatriots, to actually be heard? There
is - it is called micropower broadcasting or free radio.

Micropower broadcasting began as a means to empower the residents of a
housing project in Springfield, Illinois in the late 1980's. By creating a
low power FM broadcast station, this community established its own voice and
a direct means to fight against police brutality and repression. Unlicensed
and unsanctioned by the government, Human Rights Radio, as it is now known,
continues to broadcast to this very day.

Since then, micropower broadcasting has grown into a national movement of
electronic civil disobedience. Based on the principles of Free Speech and
Direct Action, micropower broadcasting seeks to reclaim the electronic
commons of the airwaves - a public resource and trust stolen by the
corporate broadcasters, aided and abetted by the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) and other appendages of the US Government.

Continuing in the rich tradition of the struggle to speak freely and be
heard, micropower broadcasting has traded the historic soapbox for the FM
broadcast transmitter. Advances in technology and design have allowed for
the creation of FM transmitters at a very low cost in comparison to
standard, commercial broadcasting equipment. An entire FM broadcast station
covering a radius of 5-12 miles can be assembled for $1000 or less.

Yes, there are legal risks involved. Such stations are violating FCC
regulations and statutes, and are subject to possible legal actions such as
threatening letters or fines, and sometimes seizure of equipment. Despite
this, at any given time, there are hundreds of stations on the air across
the United States. Unfortunately, stations tend to go on the air in
isolation from one another, making them an easier target for the FCC.

Despite the somewhat uncoordinated efforts of the last ten years, hundreds
of micropower stations taking to the airwaves forced the FCC to respond to a
rapidly growing, ungovernable situation. William Kennard, former head of the
FCC, admitted this is in a documentary, LPFM - The Peoples' Voice, produced
by the United Church of Christ's Microradio Implementation Project. (
http://www.veriteproductions.net/html/awards.html ;
http://www.current.org/in/in009LPFM.html ) Adding further legitimacy to the
micropower broadcasting movement, the FCC's own study on possible
interference issues, The Mitre Study
(http://prometheusradio.org/release_71303.shtml), failed to show even
marginal interference to full power broadcasters by low power FM stations.
It went further to recommend the lifting of burdensome restrictions imposed
on the LPFM broadcasting service.

For years, the National Association of Broadcasters(NAB), representing
corporate interests, has used interference as a red herring issue in their
attempts to stifle the Free Speech Rights of micropower broadcasters. Joined
by National Public Radio, the NAB, using bogus interference claims augmented
with political grease, succeeded in getting a bill, ironically titled -The
Broadcast Preservation Act of 1999, passed by Congress to severely limit the
number of LPFM stations authorized by the FCC when they established the LPFM
service in January of 1999. Whether it was the Free Speech fights of the
Wobblies, folks refusing to go to the back of the bus or hundreds of
unsanctioned low power FM taking to the airwaves, mass movements creating
ungovernable situations do work.

Therefore, we are calling for a day of electronic solidarity and direct
action, marking the beginning of a new chapter in micropower broadcasting by
raising the struggle to an entirely new level of engagement. Between now and
October, 17th, we are asking you and your community to create your own
broadcast station to further empower your vision of a just, humane, peaceful
and sustainable world.

Hundreds of new stations going on the air all at once will be a powerful
statement to the corporate media and the government that the airwaves belong
to the people who have chosen to seize them back, speaking in one strong
collective voice. With budgets and resources stretched thin, the FCC will be
hard-pressed to respond to such an expression of solidarity. This action
will encourage many more communities to set up their own broadcast stations.
Schools, arts centers, housing projects, senior communities; all could be
empowered with free radio broadcasting. Critical mass can be achieved within
a very short period of time.

To further amplify this collective voice, a mass 24 hour broadcast of the
same programming by hundreds of micropower stations would meld hundreds of
small voices into one giant shout for Free Speech Rights. Using the existing
infrastructure of the Internet and audio streaming technologies which have
been employed by the Independent Media Centers since 1999, a common audio
stream would be created for re-broadcasting. Individual stations would work
collectively to create programming for this 24 hour broadcast. Given the
number of IMC sites in the US, they could serve as hubs for the audio
streams, both incoming and outgoing. And, quite possibly, stations outside
the US would join in as well, creating a global movement to reclaim the
broadcast spectrum.

Setting up a basic FM broadcast station requires the following items.
Approximate price ranges are given.

Transmitter - $150 to $600
Power Supply - $35to $100
Antenna - $15 to $125
Antenna cable - $50 to $75
Compressor/limiter - $80 to $100
Audio mixer - $75 to $150
Microphones $25 to $50 each
Tape and CD players, go to garage sales or get donated units
Donated 300-500 Mhz computer to work as an MP3 sound file jukebox. Allows
unattended playing of program material as needed.

Transmitters are available as kits or fully assembled units. Assembled units
are mostly available from vendors in the UK. A list of vendors follows at
the end of this article. A very serviceable antenna can be built from common