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LOCAL Commentary :: Alternative Media : Media Criticism : Resistance & Tactics

FRSC: the issue from one geek's perspective

Should a Federal institution regulate your local resources?
Well, some of them. Water resources, polluted at the source, are destroyed for those living down stream. Cars polluting the air resources in Los Angeles result in the destruction of ecosystems in Joshua Tree National Park. The loss a forest is a loss for future generations. These resources extend beyond the "here and now" of a community. A lot of people agree that these resources use should be regulated in order to ensure access to and use of these resources for all interested parties, now and in the future.

Where does FRSC come in?
Free Radio Santa Cruz was shut down by the FCC. Created by the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC "is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable."

What does this have to do with a local resource?
Radio and Television communications operate using a small portion of a public resource known as the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. The full EM spectrum is made up of different types of radiation: radio waves, microwaves, visible light, UV-rays (heat), x-rays and gamma rays. The EM radiation utilized in radio (AM and FM) and TV (UHF and VHF) transmissions is low frequency EM radiation, whose wavelengths are longer than visible light.

An analogy to explain how radio works.
Since visible light and radio waves are both types of electromagnetic radiation, you can visualize how a radio station broadcasts its signal by imagining, instead of an antenna for broadcasting, a light bulb whose light can penetrate solid objects like normal light through dark glass. The different frequencies (stations) can be visualized by changing the color of the light bulb. Most radio stations (such as local station KZSC) utilize at least a 10,000 watt transmitter. As you can imagine, the light from a 10,000 watt bulb in a high location could reach (be seen by) hundreds of thousands of people. In contrast, FRSC's transmitter was only 42 watts and operating in a frequency not already licensed to a station. This is what low-power, community-level broadcasting is all about (though a bit more power is nice).

The city of Santa Cruz permitted FRSC to broadcast.
Just as a local government has the authority to permit and regulate the use of large neon signs, they should be able to permit and regulate the use of radio transmissions within their communities. In fact, you may have noticed that I previously stated that the FCC is charged with regulating "interstate and international communications." Few pirates will argue against this: stations with the ability to broadcast hundreds of miles from a single transmitter SHOULD be regulated (though, not necessarily by a Federal institution). But an LPFM station whose transmission remains largely within the community, should be regulated by that local community.

But there would be chaos!!!
To those who argue that there would be chaos and no one would be able to listen to radio or watch TV, I need to stress: I'm advocating local, accountable regulation. Radio should address the needs and desires of the community that rightfully own the radio waves. Just as a community should have the power to deny or permit and regulate a large-scale light emitters (airports, giant neon signs, searchlights) those of us who live in a community must have the power to permit and regulate the radio emissions in our communities.

The FCC is stuck in the 1930's
In my view, the kilowatt radio towers should be dismantled and replaced with new broadcasting technology, which allows for distributed coordinated broadcasts. The FCC regulators are viewing radio technology with the same eye they had in the 1930's. Broadcast technology has come a long way but they insist on maintaining this tired paradigm. I believe the way to change this is to demonstrate locally (as FRSC has) the merits and capabilities of locally regulated LPFM and to demand (or ask politely, if that's your style) that the FCC walk away from the AM and FM bands.

"Take it to the radio waves."
If you live outside a large metropolitan area, I suggest you try starting your own Pirate radio station (it's easier to avoid the FCC out there). Contact a local IndyMedia chapter for help staffing the station. And I'm sure the FRSC folks can put you in touch with some knowledgeable techs who can guide you through the electronics. (Hint: connect your studio to your transmitter through the internet through a web stream so in the unlikely event that the FCC comes all they can take is a computer [an old Pentium works], your exciter, amplifier, and antenna). Choose a frequency not used by an existing licensed broadcast, make good content and see how it goes. If your community likes what they hear, circulate a petition asking your city council to recognize you.


click for EM spectrum charts (view source for nifty dhtml example)

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Re: FRSC: the issue from one geek's perspective

One more thing...

It's interesting to note that the FCC regulates communication over radio waves.

My question: If someone were to setup a high power transmitter on the same frequency as a licensed broadcaster and simply transmitted static, would that constitute communication? Could the FCC legally intervene?

I'm NOT suggesting that anyone try this -- it would probably backfire and the FCC would be granted more power.

Just curious.

Re: FRSC: the issue from one geek's perspective

First of all, there are a couple of misconceptions to clear up.

The first is the first amendment argument. Since the dawn of radio regulation the federal government has NEVER accepted this as a valid reason for taking to the air without a license.

The primary reason for this is that the entire licensing system is based on "spectrum scarcity." That is, where there is a limited amount of space on the airwaves to speak, regulation via licensing is not only appropriate but essential to minimize the chance of interference (which would render the airwaves useless).

The disjunction between the law and reality is the fact that pirate stations have been around longer than licenses have, and for the most part they have not generated the "chaos" which is the fear that gives the government the authority to restrict access to the airwaves.

Secondly, the inter/intrastate argument is a nice try but hasn't been successful, either. Courts have continually ruled throughout the course of radio history and challenges to licensing that all radio communications (at least broadcast ones) are at some level interstate in nature: even though a microstation's signal might not cross state lines, its signal has the potential to interfere with other stations whose signals do cross state lines, thereby invoking FCC jurisdiction.

Now, don't get me wrong: I think the law sucks, and I think there needs to be major changes to the licensing system to allow true public access to the airwaves. However, you're fighting a long uphill battle - one that definitely needs to be waged, but one you really need to fully understand before stepping foot in a courtroom to defend rights that you don't have (yet).

I believe in the "Dunifer model" of working outside the regulations and laws, doing whatever it takes to proliferate microradio stations. It's that kind of pressure that pushed the FCC to even consider LPFM....and by their very existence - mostly interference-free - they demonstrate a fundamental fact: that the rationale of spectrum scarcity, which is the bedrock of the FCC's authority, is way, way overblown.

As to your hypothetical involving putting up a signal on an occupied frequency and broadcasting static: bad idea. Yes, the FCC could legally intervene, simply based on the fact that you'd be running a radio signal without proper license authority. The fact that you'd also be interfering with another licensed station would just make the punishment that much worse. Plus there is the fact that interfering with others is completely antithetical to what the microradio movement stands for - which is being responsible stewards of a resource regulated in the public's name which the public has no recourse to access accept extralegally.

The entire notion of "the public airwaves" in and of itself is a myth, but that's a rant for another day...Anyway, if anyone wants more info on the legal aspects of this feel free to e-mail me directly and I'll do what I can to help.

Re: FRSC: the issue from one geek's perspective

Larry Grant, who I sometimes go and do radio with has a radio program called "'Til Morning Come". Last week he had a very good program.

It had Matthew Lazar (check spelling) who did a book about the intense goings on at Radio Station kpfa in Berkeley. One of the interesting thing that came out is large broadcasters incuding some of your nice NPR stations that solicit your donations oppose low power radio licensing. I was NOT AWARE of this. If this is true, why doesn't someone bug them why they do this. I mean iit would be kinda mean to do during pledge times but it might be effective. I would like an answer to that.....Now I wouldn't advise being mean because I lived in West Virginia and there was no ocmmunity radio I could get involved in. Funny thing is that if one live in remote anywhere you could broadcast and be heard but 40 loyal listens perhaps....Has anyone done the math on that. Have Fun, Sends Steve


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