In celebration of independence day, and with all the recent (and well-deserved) victories in the struggle for low power community radio stations, let's revisit this fine article by Kate Duncan in Z magazine, reprinted at thirdworldtraveler.com. This article was written way back in 1998. At a book signing once, Robert McChesney wrote in my copy "La lucha continua." Yup.
"The movement for low-power community radio was relatively 10w-key until Stephen Dunifer founded Free Radio Berkeley with the intent not just to operate a small radio station, but to go to court in its defense. While the case lingered in the 9th Federal District Court, Dunifer used the protection of microbroadcasting's legal limbo to manufacture and distribute transmitters to fledgling stations, most of which broadcast between 10 and 30 watts and have a 2 to 5 mile range.
... Until now, the microbroadcasting movement's strategy has grown organically, without conferences or formal roundtable discussions. Rather, they have used exponential growth, mass media exposure, and stubborn noncompliance with FCC "cease and desist broadcasting" letters. Pirates also adhere to the safety-in-numbers rule, helping establish and keep other stations on the air.
So far, these strategies have worked. Even USA Today, the New York Times, Time magazine, and National Public Radio have picked up the pirate radio story and given it an underdog "David and Goliath" spin. Pete TriDish of Radio Mutiny credits the movement's media presence for embarrassing the FCC into publicly admitting that radio pirates have a point. In a recent Radio World interview, FCC chair William Kennard stated that "They have a legitimate issue in that there are, in some communities, no outlets for expression on the airwaves, and I believe that is a function, in part, of the massive consolidation that we are seeing in the broadcast industry." He stated he was "receptive to hearing about" models for legal microbroadcasting.
...The FCC, if it approves anything, may compromise between pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters out to protect their market dominance, the belief that high-power stations reach the most people and therefore serve the public interest without qualification, and microbroadcasters' demands, and establish a one-watt license: nine watts less than the one they abolished in 1978, and far less than most microbroadcasters' power. That's why, says Pete TriDish, "We need to build a movement that is strong enough to reject, with solidarity, a bad offer from the FCC, and continue to defy the law until we get a fair settlement."