News Archive: November 2002
11/30/02 - Evil Empire to Roll Out ISP?; Stock Market Sponsors Rumsfeld Show [link to this story]
We've been keeping tabs on a little-publicized project that Clear Channel has been testing in Cincinnati: offering internet access via digital television. The project, first dubbed the "Delta V Internet Accelerator," offered 256kbps download speeds to residential subscribers in the Cincinnati area by sending data to subscribers' computers via a sideband on WKRC's new DTV signal.
Clear Channel owns or controls nearly 40 television stations around the country, and it appears that the company is preparing to launch its ISP service nationwide. Delta V has been re-branded as WebHopper, its website has been redesigned, and a "Business"-level 768kbps service class has been added.
Residential service costs $40 per month, which covers access for one computer (each additional one is $10 extra); business access is $80/month (with the $10/additional computer fee).
If Clear Channel can get a few thousand subscribers in each market to pay monthly for internet access via DTV signal, the company will enter an entirely new arena of telecommunications, competing with the likes of phone companies instead of other media outlets. It's not exactly working to provide "better television," but it's one hell of a lot of money to be made off the public airwaves.
The digital radio standard now rolling out nationwide is well-suited to provide such an ISP service; it'll be interesting to see how long it takes Clear Channel to port WebHopper technology to work on its 1,200+ radio stations.
Witness the dawn of a new era in telecommunications - what that buzzword "convergence" really means.
In completely unrelated (but similarly ironic) news, U.S Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared on a special broadcast earlier this month simulcast on 25 commercial stations nationwide, where he took calls from a well-screened public.
The kicker: the show was exclusively sponsored by the New York Stock Exchange. If anybody happened to tape it, I'd love a copy.
11/25/02 - Big-Ups to FCC Goons [link to this story]
It's about time the folks at gatekeeper.fcc.gov showed up for a look-see; they took in 14 pages late last week.
There's plenty of unresolved numerical IPs that hit this site, and many government agencies contract out their telecommunications services (like internet access), especially at field offices. But it sure is nice to finally get hits from the HQ, so to speak.
With that in mind, I'd like to say to our FCC reader(s): I understand you have a job to do. So do we. Your bosses have compromised themselves and the mission of your agency in exchange for subservience to interests that are opposite in nature to either you (as an individual) or us.
Drop the military-esque "enforcer" shit and rid yourselves of thugs like Lloyd Perry and the Dynamic Duo up in the Twin Cities, and maybe we can all start talking instead of playing hide-and-seek.
Otherwise, you're going to end up losing the war for the airwaves. Just wanted you to know that up front. Now back to your regularly-scheduled programming.
11/24/02 - FCC Gives Entercom "Bonus" AM Station in Kansas City: A Sign of Things to Come? [link to this story]
In a little-publicized ruling on November 20, The FCC gave Entercom a special waiver involving its expanded AM band radio station in Kansas City. The waiver is disturbing on several levels. But first, some history:
The AM broadcast band used to span from 540 to 1600 kHz. In 1997, the FCC adopted a rulemaking expanding the upper end of the AM band to 1705 kHz. Over the years leading up to this, the FCC had gradually relaxed interference and channel spacing rules for AM stations, leading to lots of interference, especially at night, when some AM stations must reduce power levels or sign off completely.
Expanding the AM band was supposed to help alleviate this problem by allowing more than 80 stations who find themselves hemmed in by more powerful neighbors move to a clearer frequency.
Following the announcement of the expanded band , several AM stations applied for and received approval to move their signals onto one of the new frequencies. According to FCC rules, these stations had five years to make the switch from their old frequency to their new one; after the five-year window was up the station would then either give up its old frequency or abandon the move.
Which brings us back to the case of Entercom and two of its AM stations in Kansas City, Kansas: KKHK operates on the frequency of 1250 kHz with 25,000 watts of power during the day and 3,700 watts at night and is prone to interference problems from other stations. Entercom received approval to move KKHK to the expanded band in 1998 and established station KXTR on 1660 kHz, running 10,000 watts during the day and 1,000 watts at night.
Here are the important parts to remember: the FCC issued the construction permit for KXTR in 1998, but only got around to granting the license in October, 2001. According to the FCC's rules, the five-year transition window opens when the agency grants the construction permit for the expanded band station. However, in an official letter (ostensibly to an Entercom lawyer), the FCC slipped up and said the five-year clock starts when the FCC issues a station's license.
According to the rules, the five-year window allowing Entercom to operate both KKHK and KXTR runs out next May, which means Entercom would have to give up one of the frequencies. However, the letter implies that the window won't run out until October, 2006. Entercom appealed to the FCC for a waiver from this rule because it wanted clarification about which statement was correct about when the five-year clock began ticking.
It also said that it hadn't had enough time, assuming the original rule's wording was correct, to make sure the expanded band transition was actually in its best interest; therefore, it would not be in the public interest to force it to give up a signal in the Kansas City.
Also of note is the fact that Entercom already owns eight stations in Kansas City, the maximum allowed for that market size.
The FCC apparently agreed, and on Wednesday granted Entercom a waiver from both the expanded AM band transition rules and the radio ownership cap rules (.PDF format). What's most disturbing is that the waiver grants Entercom the authority to operate both stations for as long as it holds the licenses to them.
As the instance of stations failing to have their licenses renewed is fairly remote, the FCC essentially gave Entercom a "bonus" station in Kansas City and also allowed it to bust the ownership limit in the process. This is not what was intended when the initial rulemaking to expand the AM band was being considered.
If everyone else who received expanded band stations gets permission to operate on both their old and new frequencies, those lucky few who qualified for new stations will also keep their old ones - leaving the AM band as cluttered as before the FCC expanded it.
Many other five-year windows will soon begin to close for other broadcasters who've "moved" stations into the expanded AM band; look for similar waivers which will be similarly granted.
11/23/02 - Kentucky Shortwave Militia Pirate Arrested In North Carolina [link to this story]
"Colonel" Steve Anderson, a former member of the Kentucky State Militia kicked out of the group for his operation of a shortwave pirate radio station advocating white supremacy, was arrested yesterday in the mountains of North Carolina. According to the story in the link above, it's implied that Anderson had a license for his radio station but got it revoked by the FCC. This is incorrect. Anderson once held an amateur radio license which was revoked by the FCC, but he never had any permission to operate on the shortwave broadcast bands.
Anderson used to run "Kentucky State Militia Radio (KSMR)" out of his rural home, running 300 watts of power on two shortwave frequencies. His openly racist rhetoric and the fact that he named the station after the state militia alarmed the militia's commanding officers, who kicked him out of the group and publicly disowned him in 2001.
Last October, Anderson was pulled over by a sheriff's deputy for a busted tail light on his pickup truck. He reportedly opened fire on the cop with an automatic weapon, hitting the cruiser more than two dozen times but missing its occupants. After ditching his truck Anderson fled into the hills and all but disappeared. Police found lots of weapons and explosives in the abandoned truck and on Anderson's property in Pulaski County.
The FOX television show America's Most Wanted picked up Anderson's story - and after a second airing of his segment about a month ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received a tip about his location. They caught up with the "Colonel" yesterday and arrested him without incident.
KSMR was unique among radio pirates because it was a clandestine station - defined as existing to broadcast messages of political opposition against a government - located in the United States and directed toward U.S. citizens. Typically, most clandestine stations operate outside the country they target.
The problem was, Anderson used his platform to advocate hatred, in the process tainting the reputation of both pirate broadcasters and the larger militia movement. I think it's safe to say many folks are breathing a sigh of relief now that he's out of circulation.
11/21/02 - Lucky Bastards [link to this story]
This particular station recently moved to a new location in a building on top of which is a three-story steel smokestack (pictured at right, click for a larger photo). The smokestack isn't in use anymore and our friends would love to use it as a mast for their antenna. They have permission from the building owner but nobody can figure out a plausible way to:
1) Get the antenna to the top of the smokestack
2) Secure it in place once up there.
So, if you'll accept the challenge, put on yer brain and ponder solving this dilemma. The microbroadcasters think it's almost too crazy to entertain the idea...but not enough to abandon it completely.
They're also open to any suggestions and advice - if you have any, drop me a line and I will forward the info along to the crew.
11/18/02 - FMC Rebuts FCC; Miscellaneous Piracy Afoot [link to this story]
The Future of Music Coalition, a group of independent musicians and socially-conscious inside-the-Beltway lobbyists, released a study today calling into question the FCC's official reports on the effects of deregulation on the radio industry. FMC's study uses a statistical analysis of radio industry ownership trends and the playlists of radio formats, coupled with a small public survey, to paint a significantly different picture of the state of radio than the FCC's analysis.
According to the report, the idea of judging diversity of voices on the airwaves by the number of program formats available is absurd. Some formats overlap in their choice of music - some by as much as 76% - while in many markets there is quite a bit of format redundancy (two stations that basically play the same stuff). And when it comes to news, four companies program all the stations that two-thirds of Americans listen to for news.
Among survey respondents, an overwhelming majority favor localism over cluster-programmed stations, think there's too much advertising on the radio now, and want the new low-power FM service expanded.
You can check out the entire study in .PDF format or read the executive summary online for the high points. The National Association of Broadcasters, always quick on the trigger, released a response to the yet-to-be-published study last week, claiming it was flawed from the start. Who're you gonna believe?
In older news, massive props to the Institute for Applied Piracy, who reportedly successfully hijacked the frequency of a popular commercial radio station in Sydney, Australia on the morning of a meeting of World Trade Organization ministers last Friday. According to a report on the Sydney IMC, the hijackers used the interruption to broadcast a 10-minute monologue about why the WTO is harmful and why we never hear about it in the mainstream media.
Also last week the FCC fined California Speedway $8,000 for running an unlicensed radio station. The speedway was using a 1-watt FM rig on 104.7 to broadcast race action to people outside the race track.
According to the FCC, its Los Angeles office made repeated contacts with speedway officials about the unlawfulness of their operation before issuing a $10,000 fine. The speedway argued that it was operating as responsibly as it could without a license - no joke - and didn't deserve the full penalty as a result. The FCC apparently agreed, knocking two grand off the fine.
Let me get this straight: if you're some kid broadcasting metal and you take the same precautions not to interfere with anyone, you can expect the full wrath of the Feds - but if you're broadcasting revving noises to NASCAR fans, then pirate radio becomes somehow less evil.
Of course, California Speedway didn't make out as well as the Metroplex speedway in Texas did when it was caught broadcasting a low-power television signal of races in 1999. In that case, the the racetrack simply pulled the strings of its congressman, who gave then-FCC Chairman William Kennard a talking-to. Kennard told the enforcement goons to lay off, and the Metroplex was never punished.
11/14/02 - Once on the Short List for FCC Commissioner, Now Clear Channel Lobbyist [link to this story]
Andrew Levin, currently the top adviser to the ranking Democrat congresscritter on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (the body with the most power over media regulation), is leaving government service to work for Clear Channel Communications.
Levin was once considered a front-runner for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission as one of its two Democrats. Instead, he'll be opening up a Clear Channel lobbying office in Washington, where he'll serve as "Senior Vice President for Government Relations."
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Levin says, "I don't think there's been anyone in Washington to present facts that would dispel those myths about how Clear Channel operates its business. That's what I'll be doing."
He'll have a lot of money to work with: Clear Channel organized its own political action committee earlier this year and strongly suggested in a memo to employees that they donate a percentage of their salaries to the war chest.
And this guy was nearly selected to create the rules. He'll still get to do that, of course, only now he'll be better-paid and insulated from public scrutiny. Another example of the very real revolving door between government and business.
11/12/02 - Could Wi-Fi go Hi-Fi?, Prometheus to Assemble "Dictionary of Noise" [link to this story]
With low power FM mostly confined to the hinterlands, activists interested in expanding access to the airwaves are looking at other areas of the electromagnetic spectrum to squat. Kyle Drake has been reading some interesting stuff about the use of wireless networks operating at low powers with large coverage areas in the frequencies above one gigahertz (1 GHz).
In order to spur discussions on the idea of creating a new "citizen's broadcast band (CBB)," Kyle's set up a simple web forum. So far, a few are kicking the tires on the concept in a positive light, approaching the proposal from multiple perspectives. Not all think heading into such high-frequency territory is the solution - but it's the thought that counts. Contribute yours!
Meanwhile, as the rollout of new LPFM stations continues, the clever folks at the Prometheus Radio Project are working on a new online resource they've dubbed "The Dictionary of Noise." According to founder Pete triDish:
"We are looking for five to ten second samples of all sorts of audio, radio, and digital problems. These samples will be used to help teach new technicians how to recognize common problems, and will be housed for free use on our website, www.prometheusradio.org...For example, we need clips of:
Audio: 60 cycle hum, ground loop, AM interference, overcompression, bad connectors, bad stereo separation, harmonic distortion
Radio: Multipath, adjacent channel interference, interference from other services, overmodulation
Digital: Low sample rates, low bandwidth
"Before and after recordings are especially helpful so people can identify when a problem is fixed. So, send us recordings of your favorite noises! MP3s can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributors will be acknowledged and get two free copies of [a compilation] CD mailed to them."
This is a really cool idea, especially helpful for those starting out in radio broadcasting with zero engineering experience. If you can think of other noises to add to the list, don't hesitate to drop them a line.
11/9/02 - Bad Spin Alert: Feds Raid Michigan Militia Microradio Station [link to this story]
Mark Koernke, a member of the Michigan militia, has been in prison for two years after leading police on a high-speed chase. While he's been out of circulation, someone has been running an unlicensed microradio station from his home in the village of Dexter. The station can apparently only be heard for a couple of miles and mostly runs information sympathetic to the militia.
It's an undisputed fact that people involved with militias love weaponry. So, when federal marshals went to raid the station on Wednesday, they should not have been shocked to find a shitload of it on the Koernke property.
Seeing the stuff apparently sent the FCC men and their badge-carrying chaperones into some sort of fit, as they called in the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms and any other police they could find in the surrounding several square miles.
All those flashing lights and badges predictably drew the attention of a local television station who wasted no time mixing footage of homemade signs advertising the station's frequency with serious-looking cop shots about all the "long guns" and ammo found on the property.
"All pirates are dangerous - look how they're armed to the teeth!" FCC field agents now train at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center mostly because of this guy and his friends, who are definitely the exception, not the rule.
This week the FCC also successfully convicted an Orlando, FL man on seven criminal counts of unlicensed broadcasting; his sentencing will take place in February. The Enforcement Action Database will be updated with the relevant info shortly.
11/8/02 - FCC To Public on Media Review: Screw Your Interest [link to this story]
Last month, a coalition of consumer advocacy, labor and professional performance groups banded together to petition the Federal Communications Commission to extend the time for the public to comment on a massive rulemaking that threatens to let today's large media conglomerates get even bigger.
The coalition sought an additional three to six months to collect public input on the proposed hyper-consolidation effort and also requested access to the data the FCC used to produce a dozen reports which are (surprise!) mostly in favor of allowing more media consolidation.
In a curiously-timed Election Day notice, the FCC granted a paltry 30-day extension to the public comment window, making January 2, 2003 the new deadline by which initial comments must be filed. Reply comments are due a month later.
While that in itself is a slap in the face (apparently the public has no interest in speaking to this potential sea-change in the media landscape), the FCC also announced it will only allow on-site inspection of the data used in its media studies. This requires anyone interested in rebutting them to travel to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. The agency also released a protective order on Tuesday detailing the requirements interested parties must meet for access.
Why is the FCC making it so difficult for the public to get access to the data behind its studies on this important issue? Its news release cites the use of "proprietary information" and the fact that it does not actually own all of the data used to produce its reports - in my view, such data should be required to become part of the public record. If the reports are, why not the data?
Not only is it a lame excuse, but it's one more example of how Michael Powell and the crew in D.C. have abandoned any tattered speck of lip service to any "public interest." There's too much at stake for the media industry to lose this opportunity. Hell, deals are already being made in preparation for the new ownership rules - mergers and other strategic alliances are already being forged - going through this process is only supposed to be a formality.
If the public were really involved in making the media rules, it might mess up the plan. Can't have that here in the U$A, no sir!
11/7/02 - Freak Radio Reporter Arrested for Taping Public Meeting [link to this story]
Robert Norse, a reporter with Freak Radio Santa Cruz, had no idea his mini-tape recorder would cause so much trouble.
On Monday, Norse attended the inaugural meeting of a special committee empaneled by the the Santa Cruz, CA city council. The "Downtown Issues Task Force" is charged with implementing a controversial city plan to "clean up" downtown Santa Cruz. In addition to effectively outlawing panhandling, the plan would also place severe restrictions on street theater, leafleting, and the ability to set up informational tables.
According to Norse's account of the meeting posted to the Santa Cruz Independent Media Center, 10 minutes into the DITF's meeting, its chairman - councilman Ed Porter - took issue with Norse's tape recorder, which had been set up in plain view on the table.
Porter reportedly asked Norse to stop recording and Norse refused, citing open meetings laws and his right as a reporter for FRSC to document the discussion. After asking police to remove Norse (which they refused to do), Mr. Porter performed a "citizen's arrest" on him, which forced the officers to kick him out of the building where he received a misdemeanor citation for "disrupting a public assembly."
Mr. Porter obviously doesn't know what he's up against: not only has FRSC been operating mostly 24/7 for more than seven years now (in direct defiance of multiple FCC warnings), but in 1999 the Santa Cruz city council approved a resolution in support of the station. The resolution also urged the FCC to legalize low power FM radio. Mr. Porter wasn't on the council at the time.
Robert Norse later commented, "If Ed wants privacy, he should retire to private life. He's a public official & this was a public meeting. I have a job to do as a radio broadcaster. If he's going to arrest the media for every tape recording, the police will be mighty busy."
Knowing some of the folks involved in FRSC, they're not likely to let Ed Porter off the hook easily for this...