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News Archive: April 2006

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4/28/06 - Sampling Shortwave With Ease Online [link to this story]

The shortwave pirate broadcast community is significantly small enough that most station operators are friends with one another, though the frequency of station broadcasts over the last year has, at times, been high enough that some have accidentally clashed signals. The FCC has not taken a documented enforcement action against a shortwave pirate since 1998, which has also led to the proliferation of stations. This long run of heavy activity has resulted in an increase in the shortwave listening community.

However, shortwave listening may not be for everyone. Audio quality on shortwave can leave a lot to be desired, and in many cases the pirates broadcasting are so weak (less than 100 watts) that hardcore listeners have to endure lots of static and noise, if only to hear a snippet of a show.

Fortunately, shortwave listening's rising popularity has led to the proliferation of online resources devoted to the preservation of pirate broadcasts. Ragnar's Pirates Week podcast regularly features recent catches off the shortwave bands, and many times Ragnar will simulcast pirates live on a webstream called The Gulch. Alex Draper maintains an extensive archive of pirate broadcast recordings, as well as a forum where links to audio files of recent catches can be found. Some folks upload airchecks of shortwave pirates to the Internet Archive.

It is now easier to keep up with shortwave pirate activity than ever before, without needing the excessive patience and acoustic tolerance required to successfully tune in the stations directly. Many shortwave listeners would argue that snagging the signal out of the ether in the first place is a good chunk of the fun.

4/25/06 - Quad Cities Pirate Takes FCC Head-On [link to this story]

Much in the spirit of Kantako, when the FCC paid a visit to Power 103.3 in Bettendorf, Iowa last week, the field agent was met at the door by a video camera. Two representatives of the station informed him that they were operating under the authority of 47 CFR 73.3542, which allows for emergency authorization of broadcasts in times of war or national emergency. The local paper's article about the encounter does not note whether Power 103.3 has complied with the notification provision of the relevant Code.

As if that wasn't enough, the station plans to preemptively strike in the courts, requesting its own injunction against the FCC to prevent a station raid. Not a lot of details on the grounds for this maneuver, but you have to admire the fight. Should things escalate, "we will probably move the station to buy more time. Then they have to start all over and come inspect that property and serve us another notice. We have back-up plans."

A follow-up story notes that the two companies who own the Quad Cities commercial radio market, Clear Channel and Cumulus, both complained to the FCC about Power 103.3. A Cumulus stoolie says, "It's annoying to us. It’s not the end of the world, it's just kind of stupid." The reader comments posted to the story run overwhelmingly in favor of the station.

Power 103.3 joins a growing list of microbroadcasters to experiment with the "emergency authorization" strategy of FCC engagement, which includes Free Radio San Diego, Pirate Cat Radio, and the 2002 Mosquito Fleet in Seattle.

4/24/06 - AMC 2006 Ahoy [link to this story]

In a more constructive vein, should wealthy progressives want to find projects worthy of support they should trek to Bowling Green, Ohio during the last weekend in June for the Allied Media Conference. There, in one place, you will find hundreds of creative people who are already "greenlighting media projects." The theme this year even fits the bill: "From truth to power: because being right is not enough."

Having expended my single-dimensional skill-sharing ability last year, this time round I plan to hide out among the films...and bowl.

4/23/06 - Take Your Money, Set It On Fire [link to this story]

AlterNet is running a two-part feature on the need for better progressive media in the United States. The sentiments are nice, but they replicate old and tired refrains that money will fix many ills.

First comes a piece from Rick Gell, wherein he laments that if only progressive America had a television network of its own to rival the majors, everything would be better in the political world. Specifically, progressives need a for-profit television network, as the corporate sector is where all the money is.

Gell says we need to wake up and stop believing that "progressives are still the back-to-the-country, anti-automation, communal-living hippies of the sixties and not the Starbucks-drinking, iPod carrying, SUV-driving people many of us really are." That's the first hint of a problem. The Starbucks-drinking, iPod carrying, SUV-driving people like Rick aren't really progressives - they're Leadership Council Democrats, who sully the term "progressive" by appropriating it. Progressivism represents a way of life, not a lifestyle descriptor.

Gell criticizes media reformers for running "conferences steeped in policy, but void of creativity and absent of people who could greenlight any media projects." Actually, the creative media-producer types were not overtly welcome at the last "media reform" conference because conference organizers felt that trying to tackle more than the policy angle would have made the conference unwieldy in size and scope (a questionable decision, but one not made lightly).

Like many pieces of this sort, "alternative media" is portrayed as some sort of hinterland where progressives can camp out and preach to each other; the insinuation is that alternative media is ineffective. Surely written by someone who's never actually worked with alternative media, of the sort where the empowerment of people to speak for themselves is the goal. That creates media literacy, which fundamentally shifts peoples' perspectives on their place in the media environment, and is ultimately more effective than progressive messages wrapped in a network-TV format.

Indeed, near the end of the story we discover that Gell's spent the last year "pitching a weekly progressive newsmagazine show for cable with a former cable-news president on board as Executive Producer," and is frustrated that he "can't get to first base."

Don Hazen, AlterNet's executive editor, chimes in to bolster Gell's refrain. But Hazen's more pragmatic: "Much of progressive media remains 'alternative' media, speaking mostly to its secure audience while some of its political clout is hindered by the legal limits of most organizations' nonprofit status." Alternative media does not exist to accumulate and exercise political clout. I agree that, in many ways, being involved with alternative media at any level may be a political act, but its production is not necessarily designed with a political goal in mind, and very seldomly at the national level that Hazen and Gell imply. In fact, whether a given media outlet qualifies as "alternative," in many ways, depends on the scale of your point of view.

Hazen also takes issue with the inordinate amount of time spent on media policy reform, while conveniently ignoring that policies like network neutrality are fundamental to his progressive media infrastructure-growth desires, and require immediate attention. He also ignores the historical fact that the structure of media regulation has a built-in bias against non-corporate players.

Spending money on building a media infrastructure of your own is definitely a better investment than trying to buy one's way onto the air. But going into such a plan with the notion of copying an inherently undemocratic model of communication seems to defeat the purpose, especially if your purpose is fundamental change and not simply message parity.

While Gell and Hazen give lip service to "alternative media," their apparent definition falls woefully short of what that universe entails. It includes Air America and bloggers, but not Indymedia, wikis, and the inherently granular, powerfully personal forms of media production: stenciling and street theatre, microradio, remix culture. Both write about changes they'd like to see without the experience of getting their hands dirty in the the independent media universe that exists today. All they seem to care about is that it is not big enough and not sharply focused enough on electing more Ds than Rs in 2008.

As a commenter to Hazen's story noted, "wanting a progressive media without progressive reality is just another form of masturbation."

4/22/06 - Wack Spots Promote HD Radio [link to this story]

A former colleague now working at a major-market station sent along a CD containing some of the Clear Channel-produced spots now airing on stations nationwide promoting the arrival of digital radio. The campaign's tagline, "Are You Def Yet?," kind of sets the stage for what to expect.

The quality of farts and ass-slapping in HD makes you want to run out right now and drop a couple hundred to listen in, doesn't it? For the partisan, there's three anti-liberal spots and one anti-conservative. The one to actually pique my interest mentioned "secret stations between frequencies," in part because it's the closest to the truth.

The major broadcast conglomerates that make up the HD Digital Radio Alliance have pledged to commit more than $200 million in ad inventory to promote the technology. It sounds like they're getting their money's worth.

4/19/06 - Scene Report: California [link to this story]

106.9FM, the on-air relay for RadioActive San Diego, is back on the air. The station went dark last year citing financial and FCC troubles (the host of its transmitter was hit with a $10,000 Notice of Apparent Liability). When it signed off it pledged to come back five times stronger. That pledge has been fulfilled: the old 30-watt transmitter's been replaced with one that does 150.

Earlier this month, Free Radio San Diego went back up to full power, after hobbling along in a weaker configuration since being raided last summer. Station founder Bob Ugly reports the coverage area is "as good if not the best it's ever been."

4/12/06 - Federal Judge Disses Radio Free Brattleboro [link to this story]

A short story reports that J. Garvan Murtha, the federal judge overseeing the FCC's original case against the station, ruled in the FCC's favor on March 31. The ruling contains a "John and Mary Doe" clause, which basically calls for a blanket ban on any unlicensed broadcasting within the community of Brattleboro.

Unfortunately, the story says nothing about the judge's rationale. It does, however, quote station lawyer James Maxwell as saying that the station's tactic of mustering community support for an alternate "authority to broadcast" is still valid: "The basic argument that a town gave an entity permission to broadcast still exists. That argument is still useable by other stations."

I'm guessing Murtha basically applied the historically-consistent smackdown arguments to rfb's case: that the FCC has exclusive jurisdiction over the airwaves and/or rfb never exhausted its administrative remedies with the FCC before attacking the license rule via direct action. The latter sounds more likely given Maxwell's assertion.

Never mind the FCC's violation of the station's right of due process by seeking a shutdown judgment in one court and getting a raid warrant in another. Had he bigger balls, Judge Murtha would have held the FCC in contempt for subverting his court.

It's not as if the rfb case broke entirely new ground, except on the tactical front. Murtha simply delayed the inevitable, which was his prerogative, in misguided hopes of facilitating rfb's assimilation into the licensing regime. The FCC didn't play ball and had already raided the station, so there wasn't a lot left for him to decide.

Judge Claudia Wilken, who in 1997 kept Free Radio Berkeley on the air by initially deferring to grant the FCC an injunction against the station, admitted early on that the government would ultimately prevail in its drive to shut the station down on points of law. But Wilken, like Murtha, disagreed in part with the law, which restricts stations like rfb from even existing.

Even cases that are ultimately lost can win enough along their way through the court system to make a difference. Challenges to the FCC's licensing regime like radio free brattleboro's lose not because of insufficient merit; procedural and jurisdictional pitfalls befall them. Eventually there will come a case where these evasions of the merits will themselves fail.

Meanwhile, construction of a legal LPFM station in Brattleboro is well underway, with launch to take place perhaps in May.

4/10/06 - Dave Rabbit to Resurrect Radio First Termer [link to this story]

Following up on February's reappearance of Dave Rabbit, the legendary DJ of Vietnam pirate Radio First Termer, Corey Deitz snagged extended correspondence with Rabbit last month, wherein he says there may be a feature-length documentary about RFT in the works. Rabbit's also putting together a 35th anniversary program to air sometime this year, perhaps in Saigon (though he doesn't say how).

Ragnar Daneskjold of the Pirates Week podcast has also extensively interviewed Rabbit and plans to play back that conversation in two parts, starting with next weekend's show.

4/7/06 - Pervasive Fake News Documented, FCC Shrugs [link to this story]

Yesterday the Center for Media and Democracy released Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed. It tracks the use of some three dozen video news releases (VNRs) by television stations across America.

The use of VNRs is serious business. Companies and other special interests pay PR flacks (usually former journalists) to essentially produce generic television reports, which are then freely fed to TV stations nationwide.

Television reporters and news directors like VNRs because they're easy fodder with which to fill a newscast, meaning fewer reporters to pay and less work needed from everyone involved. Companies like VNRs because they get free commercials masquerading as journalism.

For their part, the general position of TV-people has been that yes, VNRs are in circulation, but nobody uses them, or they just use portions of them very selectively and always responsibly. Busted: CMD's report puts actual VNR footage side-by-side with what aired on stations everywhere, and there's no denying the results.

While the VNRs discovered in the wild were initially fed with disclaimers at the beginning and end clearly identifying who paid for them, TV stations simply edited those out for broadcast. Many stations aired VNRs nearly verbatim. Others had a local reporter re-voice a piece, adding graphics along the way so as to make it look and sound like a locally-produced story. Similar things happen in the radio business, and newspapers have long been fans of the press release, but tee-vee news manages to find the new journalistic low in carelessness.

The Radio and Television News Directors Association's own code of ethics regarding the use of VNRs clearly requires any journalist who uses PR footage to label it as such. 77 stations in markets large and small practice provably unethical journalism - and that's just those this particular study uncovered. 36 video news releases represent less than 1% of all the VNRs produced yearly. That such limited spelunking came up with a wealth of muck suggests this is no isolated problem, but pervasive in the practice TV news at the local level.

When the CMD and Free Press folks went to Washington, D.C. to present this evidence to the FCC, as a former member of the corporate media I felt a little giddy. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in particular has been quite outspoken about the use of fake news. Last year the FCC issued a public notice "reminding" broadcasters of the laws requiring sponsorship disclosure; this was prompted by outcry that government-sponsored propaganda had found its way onto the airwaves. Back then, Jonathan Adelstein said, "we are putting broadcasters and others subject to our rules on notice that we intend to enforce our rules vigorously." He also promised an FCC inquiry into fake news.

It's been a year; CMD's now done the FCC's homework. During a conference call with Adelstein yesterday, I asked him (5:14, 2.5 MB) about the possibility of bringing that wrath down. He'd earlier made allusions to the most recent blowup of the radio payola scandal, during which threats of massive fines and license revocation hearings against stations that got paid to play certain songs have been bandied about. I consider fraudulent journalism to be a more serious offense.

Although Adelstein's statement on Fake TV News calls it "stunning in scope" and demands immediate investigations up to and including the potential for criminal prosecutions, he told me the report only documents "isolated incidents." While it does suggest the use of VNRs is pervasive, "we can't kinda prove that, you know?" The FCC needs more evidence before substantive action can be taken: "continued vigilance" by groups like CMD and Free Press will be necessary. How much will be enough?

If Adelstein were Chairman, he'd commence license revocation hearings against the outed TV stations - to "put the scare into them, so that they know that if they got caught again, that their license would be yanked." License revocation hearings shouldn't be a symbolic tactic. Adelstein does not believe the current administration will move in that direction anyway.

I also inquired about how this report might impact the impending renewal of FCC proceedings to relax media ownership rules. Just within the last week Chairman Kevin Martin voiced support for doing away with the newspaper/TV cross-ownership rule, which prevents TV stations from buying the local newspaper, and vice versa (subject to waivers). Press releases go with VNRs like PB&J. Perhaps that push might be deflated?

Not really, said Adelstein. Again, barring the accumulation of more evidence, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to link fake news to ownership at this time, given the politically polarizing nature of the media ownership debate within the FCC itself. "If we drag that into the debate it makes it harder to do a real investigation because it, just makes it difficult."

It took 10 months to produce Fake TV News, but it will apparently take more than this bombshell to make a dent at the FCC. I can't blame Adelstein for his position: he's the one Commissioner that gives a f*ck enough to actually speak to the issue. Congress to the rescue? Not likely. All the more reason to support independent media, and jam the blow-dries at will.

4/5/06 - A/V Miscellany [link to this story]

Passed along recently was a link to Immortal Technique's "The Fourth Branch" set to a slideshow of war imagery. If you're of the queasy sort, viewer discretion is advised. In a related vein, Skidmark Bob's most recent episode of Pop Defect Radio, "A Day in the Life 2006," lives up to its tagline in an especially metal flavor. Fellow talented splicer rx lays down faint funk around Martin Luther King, Jr's "Beyond Vietnam" speech, resulting in "Rise Again" (9:56, 9.2 MB), making a piece first spoken 39 years ago (as of yesterday) sound like it's talking about today.

Just for kicks, I looked up this site's own top 10 music chart, based on the number of hits in March:

1. Rage Against the Machine - Guerrilla Radio
2. Wax Audio - Imagine This
3. The Clash - This is Radio Clash
4. The Ramones - We Want the Airwaves
5. Anti-Flag: Underground Network
6. Hunchentoot - Who Are You Bush
7. Mbanna Kantako/Human Rights Radio - Burn the Devil With Truth
8. rx - My Name Is Rx
9. Molotov Cocktail - FCC
10. Xzibit - State of the Union

4/1/06 - FCC Watch: Enforcement Action Continues Apace [link to this story]

In the first three months of the year the FCC's executed about half the total enforcement actions conducted last year, which broke all previous records.

Among the latest batch to be contacted is Pirate Cat Radio, the dual radio/TV station simulcast in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The FCC issued separate warning letters to two people - usually a single person gets the heat first. Not sure which one of them is the infamous Monkey Man, though you can now see him unmasked in a mini-documentary on Pirate Cat recently found on Current TV. He and a couple other DJs explain why they so love microradio.