Pirate radio under attack, ready for fight - December 20th, 2000
by Erika Fricke
Berkeley Liberation Radio won’t be affected by the recent Congressional legislation limiting the number of licenses available to micro-radio stations throughout the country. It couldn’t get a license if it tried.
“Our response is that we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing and that is broadcasting without a license,” said Paul Griffin, who trains DJ’s for the micro-radio station in west Berkeley. The Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000 was adopted by the U.S. Senate Friday – having earlier passed in the House of Representatives – as a rider to a larger budget bill. It countermands a proposal from the Federal Communications Commission to grant licenses to micro-radio stations providing local service to their communities at low-level power. The FCC proposal would have granted licenses to stations operating six dial points in either direction away from a current station.
Alan Korn, lawyer for the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Democratic Communications, said that no spots would have been available in the Bay Area under these guidelines, because the airwaves are already packed; nationally, however, 1,000 new stations could have gotten licensed. The new congressional legislation only allows licenses to be granted to stations eight dial points away from existing stations on either side. And very few locations such as that exist, “so it will only be available in rural areas,” said Korn. He said now only about 70 spots will be available nationally. The new law decreasing the potential number of licensed micro-radio stations may produce the opposite effect. “You’re just going to have more unregulated pissed off pirate broadcasters. I think this is going to come back and hurt the broadcasters,” said Korn.
The DJ’s of Berkeley’s Liberation Radio expressed those same sentiments.
“We basically have explored every possible avenue of redress to somehow bring some balance back to the way the airways are used in this country,” said Griffin.
“We’ve gone through the courts, the legislative process, the FCC, and the direct action campaign of electronic civil disobedience – people going ahead without sanction or approval from the government and putting up broadcast stations to serve their respective communities.” he said.
“That is the only avenue left to us and it’s the most effective.”
Berkeley has a long history with micro radio. One long-standing legal challenge to the microradio laws comes from Stephen Dunifer, founder of Free Radio Berkeley.
“When Free Radio Berkeley itself went on the air it soon came to the attention of the FCC,” he said. “We began our legal entanglement with FCC at that point, so we took our equipment up the hills on Sunday nights.”
After the court granted an injunction against Free Radio Berkeley, Berkeley Liberation Radio took its place, with 50 DJ’s, and as many different programs, including a show specifically focused on the trade embargo with Cuba, a Food Not Bombs radio show, and a family show on parenting. Thus far, Liberation Radio has avoided serious problems with the FCC.
“Usually the FCC responds to complaints. We do try to be good neighbors on the dial and not interfere,” Liberation Radio’s Griffin said. “We’re trying to be a service to the community.” But DJ’s at the station professed their desire to keep broadcasting even if they are targeted by the government.
“If each individual DJ had a transmitter he could broadcast for a half hour in some place that takes (the federal marshals) a half hour to get to,” said Greg Getty, who DJ’s the Mouse Report. The micro radio issue’s move out of the FCC and into the congressional halls may have unexpected benefits.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen with people who’ve already applied to the FCC (for licenses); they may have some legal rights.,” said Peter Franck, lawyer for the Center for Democratic communications.
Korn said that in California over 800 groups applied for licenses, including church groups, libraries, farm workers, and government agencies.
Prior to the issuing of licenses, micro radio broadcasters had little legal resources because the state could fall back on the argument that the complainant didn’t apply for licenses, even though licenses weren’t available. Now people who did apply for licenses may stand on firmer ground, he said.
And challenges can be directed against the congressional law at the district court level, while challenges to the FCC would have had to be reviewed in the federal court of appeals. Making a challenge at the district level is both less difficult, and less expensive, said Franck.
He said that the lawyers will be deciding in the next few weeks whether or not to bring suit against the government, depending on both the desires of complainants and whether challenges have a reasonable chance of success.