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News Archive: March 2005

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3/30/05 - Liberation Radio Loses Seizure Challenge, Plans Appeal [link to this story]

A somewhat skimpy story notes the ruling against SFLR's challenge came down on March 14. Alan Korn has graciously provided a copy. It's grim reading: first and fourth amendment arguments are bounced, and District Court Judge Susan Ilston avoids the station's direct challenge to FCC rules with the jurisdictional wiggle ("that issue belongs in D.C., not with me").

The station's attorney, Mark Vermeulen, hopes for better things at the Ninth Circuit: "Courts of Appeals have more leverage in establishing new precedents." Yet the two most successful microbroadcast cases ever litigated, involving Free Radio Berkeley and Radio Free Brattleboro, scored their victories at the district court level.

FRB enjoyed nearly four years of government-sanctioned license-free microbroadcasting before losing (on appeal to the same Ninth Circuit where Liberation Radio is heading). rfb celebrated the one-year anniversary of its district court victory this month (which the FCC has yet to appeal) and will celebrate its seventh year on the air in July.

3/27/05 - NAB Promoting Radio's Musical Wonderfulness [link to this story]

The campaign is called "Radio. You hear it here first," features a curiously Napster-like logo, and contains two types of spots. The longer ones are basically rambling moments, where the National Association of Broadcasters gives the featured artists 40 seconds to act stupid. The shorter ones feature artists positioning radio's influence in their career. Many of these are pretty silly, like Lynyrd Skynrd officially declaring "Freebird" to be one of "the greatest songs of all time" and The Bravery conducting a one-note meditation. Collage fodder is in the air...

3/22/05 - Pirate News on Podcast [link to this story]

Recently stumbled across Pirates Week, a podcast which collects news about unlicensed broadcasting from around the 'net and posts new editions weekly. There's also a show blog, although the two aren't reciprocally linked. As of now the content's kind of thin but it's great to see someone doing it.

3/21/05 - HD Radio: Pay to Play [link to this story]

Ibiquity Digital Corp., patent-holders on the In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) digital audio broadcast standard adopted by the U.S., announced its license fee structure earlier this month. Ibiquity's technology is proprietary - therefore, going forward, digital radio broadcasting requires two licenses to broadcast: one from the government and one from Ibiquity.

In hopes of enticing early adoption, the initial "one-time" general IBOC license fee to Ibiquity begins at $5,000 per station. If stations wait just three years to convert, however, they will find that fee to be five-fold.

Then, there are the residuals: stations that multicast (i.e. carry multiple program streams on one channel) must pay Ibiquity 3% of the revenues derived from the second DAB channel, or $1,000, whichever is greater. This fee will be assessed annually. This is somewhat ironic because National Public Radio led the effort to develop IBOC-compliant multicast capability (something commercial broadcasters initially rebuffed).

The real money's expected to come from datacasting - the provision of non-broadcast services using some of the DAB bandwidth. Ibiquity wants 3% of any datacast revenue, too - and that will be collected quarterly.

Future upgrades to IBOC will also come at a price, especially those "that contain more features," which is vague enough to mean almost anything (patches will be free).

Ibiquity does plan some exemptions for noncommercial broadcasters, although so far it is light on details. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been offering grant money to help non-coms offset the cost of transitioning from analog to analog/digital, but nobody's said anything about an ongoing subsidy to assist with intellectual property rent-payments.

At the 2001 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, Ibiquity President/CEO Robert Struble made a direct comparison to Microsoft. He said, "We're a software company. If you buy a transmitter, you'll need new software from us." All hail the new monopoly-by-standard.

3/18/05 - LPFM Expansion Rulemaking Expected @ FCC [link to this story]

Reliable sources report the agency may be asking for restoration of the service to its pre-Congressional parameters, minus a few qualifications, the significance of which are undetermined.

Could it be true? The day after Mikey Powell leaves the building, LPFM takes a great leap forward? As they say, "developing..."

Update: Indeed, it is true. Also included is a six-month freeze on FM translator applications, which at least halts the RAM/EB/WRL triad for the moment. Nice to see the public interest get respect for a change.

3/17/05 - Miscellaneous Link of Note Stew [link to this story]

Air Jesus: With The Evangelical Air Force - from Media Transparency. Forget not, most translator-mongers are christian soldiers. Also see Bush Picks New FCC Chairman, Conservatives Hail Decision.

Pop Defect Radio: 10 Years (A Pirate's Life) - in celebration of Freak Radio's 10th birthday this month. Also see Free Radio Berkeley 2005 workshop schedule.

And then there's Florida: a follow-up to a station hunted on-camera (with comment from FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein), and how two sh*tty stations got dimed by their sh*tty tower. Negative publicity ahoy!

3/15/05 - Translator-Mongers Fire Back [link to this story]

Looks like the Edgewater/RAM cabal found out that they've been found out. Yesterday they filed an "emergency motion to dismiss" the public petition calling for a freeze on the processing of FM translator applications due to allegations of spectrum speculation and trafficking. It's an arrogant document wherein they mince no words:

The Petition cites no wrongdoing whatsoever by the Ministries. It resorts instead to wild speculation impugning the character, motives, and methods of the Ministries and their principals.

Edgewater/RAM also notes that former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, now working for the United Church of Christ Office of Communication (a big LPFM supporter), contacted at least three sitting Commissioners on the translator-trafficking issue. Edgewater/RAM take great umbrage in this and demand Tristani somehow be punished. There is lots of lobbying going on behind the scenes including, thankfully, some religious broadcasters who express dismay over the ethics of the scheme.

There will be further strike and counterstrike in the record now, which you may watch unfold for yourself in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System. Since the petition to freeze was filed on March 9, the FCC has since signed off on several Edgewater/RAM deals affecting at least four states, amounting to more than $48,000 worth of translator sales.

3/14/05 - On Falling Close to the Tree [link to this story]

Mikey Powell and Media Bureau chief William ("Ken") Ferree, until this week top dogs at the FCC, have new gigs to fall into. Powell is heading to the Aspen Institute, a common transitional stop for former Chairmen. Ferree lands a phatter job: Chief Operating Officer at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Ferree, architect of the (mostly failed) media ownership review, now making critical decisions on funding for public radio and TV. Sounds like a match made in heaven!

3/12/05 - Rockin' the Boat Sails Again [link to this story]

After an eight-month hiatus, during which he produced plenty for Free Speech Radio News, the V-Man is back in the saddle at Free Radio Santa Cruz. Rockin' the Boat returned to the air yesterday: unlike last time the show is a weekly affair.

This incarnation, says the V-Man, will be "a...mishmash of sounds. One week I might rant for two hours, the next could be all music. One week, I might pick a topic...and cover as much ground as possible about that, or I might just open up the phone lines another week. Expect the unexpected..."

Freak Radio recently celebrated its 10th birthday with choice cuts from the archives.

3/11/05 - Liberation Radio Plans Appeal [link to this story]

Another strange day in court for the folks at San Francisco Liberation Radio. This morning they got another chance to argue their case in front of federal district judge Susan Illston: this time the station's legal team emphasized that it has eight years' worth of correspondence with the FCC, which should (at some level) make their case somehow different, and their argument against the station raid and seizure process somehow more compelling.

Karoline Hatch wrote in an update:

While it is very likely that the ruling will not be in SFLR's favor, we are not surprised nor discouraged by this. Judge Illston's decisions are restricted by those of precedent-setting cases in higher courts and our intention has been to argue our case in front of the Ninth Circuit where policy change can happen on a national level.

She signed off with, "One thing [we] learned today was that the law moves very slowly." I guess this means we're still waiting for the initial ruling against the station. Most people are not excited about heading into an appeal, and I'm not completely sure why SFLR and its legal crew are. The Ninth Circuit's got unfavorable precedent to work with as well.

3/9/05 - Translator Invasion Freeze Petition Filed [link to this story]

Today REC Networks, Prometheus Radio Project, and a gaggle of D.C. media advocacy groups filed an emergency petition with the FCC for a freeze on the processing of translator applications from 2003. That was the application window in which 13,000+ applications were filed, of which 4,000+ were part of a scheme to provide turnkey radio networks to religious broadcasters.

The petition reports that World Radio Link, Inc. is apparently the marketing arm of the scheme. It advertised prominently at the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention last month that it

[r]epresents the two largest filers of FM translator applications in the FCC’s most recent FM filing window. These two applicants, Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting, are making available for acquisition hundreds of these FM translator station construction permits to existing or new entrant Christian broadcasters throughout the country.

All three principals behind World Radio Link - Clark Parrish, Earl Williamson, and Diana Atkin - are the same people listed as the officers of Edgewater Broadcasting and Radio Assist Ministry. RAM not only now has a web site, but it includes a map of "translator applications that have been granted or we expect to be granted soon."

Ultimately the petition alleges Parrish, Williamson, and Atkin fraudulently applied for FM translator construction permits and upset long-standing FCC prohibitions on naked speculation and trafficking involving such permits. It seeks an immediate freeze on the processing of pending applications and asks the FCC to review the transactions that have already taken place. It also notes,

The widespread nature of the conduct by Parrish, Williamson and Atkin, and the general failure of the Commission's safeguards to prevent them from trafficking raises the suspicion that the rules governing this application window were insufficient to prevent wholesale abuse by other applicants as well.

The timing of the filing is politically-motivated: the petitioners hope outgoing FCC chairman Mikey Powell can be pressured into fixing this mess, which happened on his watch, before he leaves office this month.

In addition to the filing development, I've gleaned some more details. Atkin or Williamson may be a proxy for another interest who could not be listed on any corporate boards due to some (unspecified) character qualification issue. The lawyer who represents Edgewater/RAM in its filings with the FCC is Dawn Sciarrino, who runs her own law firm exclusively devoted to FCC business. Having Harry C. Martin involved in the multiple Calvary Chapel-specific deals certainly couldn't have hurt their approval chances. And a bit of trivia: Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls holds the license to the only FM translator operating on 87.9 Mhz in the country. 34-watt K200AA "serves" Sun Valley, Nevada.

3/7/05 - New Tracks from Wax Audio; Free Passes to Free Press Conference [link to this story]

Tom Compagnoni first dropped the world-leaders-as-rappers tip last year with WMD...and other distractions. He's back (with crew) as Wax Audio, featuring a new album, Mediacracy. It's a broader sonic critique of the geopolitical follies of the last couple of years, with special attention given to the media's role in them. Not as much rapping, save GWB's cover of John Lennon's "Imagine," which is a feat in and of itself. Several of the cuts will eventually make their way into Truthful Translations this week but you can get 'em direct at a better bitrate from the link above.

It seems that applications to the Media Reform Conference Scholarship Fund are running a bit low: "We have only 110 applications this year, compared to 350 [at this point before the 2003 conference]." Therefore,

The [application] deadline has been extended to March 15.  Free Press is committed to supporting increased participation by people from constituencies traditionally under-represented in media policy work (including people of color, women, youth, GLBT, labor and grassroots activist constituencies). We also seek broad geographic representation. We will prioritize scholarship applications from individuals who contribute to the diversity of conference participants. 

3/3/05 - Scene Report: Florida [link to this story]

Amateurs on the offensive: The American Radio Relay League has formally petitioned the FCC to nullify Florida's anti-pirate law passed last year. Not because hams like pirates, but because they're afraid the law's so broadly written that any amateur who inadvertently interferes could be branded a criminal. ARRL's 10-page Request for Declaratory Ruling is an excellent encapsulation of the legislative and judicial history for why laws like Florida's shouldn't be on the books.

Meanwhile, some clenching reporter from a Fort Myers TV station put together an "exposé" of a local hip-hop pirate station using indecency as a hook, complete with bleeped clips and the shocked reaction of a (white) mother's face after she tuning in for the cameras. The reporter, with help from a local commercial radio station worried about the pirate's effect on its listenership, went so far as to track down the transmission location. It also calls use of the internet as STL a growing trend.

3/1/05 - Religious Broadcasting As Franchise Operation [link to this story]

A closer look at the commodification of FM translator stations reveals a larger dimension to the proliferation of religious radio networks, and Calvary Chapel in particular. This includes discovery of a prominent and somewhat startling link between some of the various Chapels and their broadcast operations.

Read on for the latest, and keep in mind that while Calvary Chapel(s) may be on the hot seat, they are just a few of many religious broadcast organizations engaged in similar behavior, albeit on a much smaller scale.