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News Archive: August 2003

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8/28/03 - Clear Channel/KJR Re-Jammed in Seattle [link to this story]

Last September, when the National Association of Broadcasters descended on Seattle for their annual radio convention, they were met by a swarm of microradio stations, who dubbed themselves the "mosquito fleet."

During the convention the stations coordinated a simulcast spoof of local Clear Channel classic hits outlet KJR-FM, which ran on spots across Seattle's FM dial for the better part of a day. The on-air culture jam, produced by Negativland, ripped into KJR and Clear Channel for billing the station as playing the "SuperHits 60s and 70s," yet sneaking in a significant number of 80's tunes. It was a sideswipe at Clear Channel and the NAB's focus on broadcasting for a demographic and the bottom line.

Since then, KJR's fallen on hard times - ratings are in the toilet and Clear Channel's been desperate to do something dramatic. They accomplished this by bringing in Pat Cashman, the announcer from Bill Nye the Science Guy and local mega-celebrity to host KJR's morning show earlier this month.

While the hype was hot Negativland spiked a Cashman fansite message board with notice of a recycled and elaborated online version of their mosquito fleet spoof from last September, packaged as a tabloidy exposé. The fans were duly shocked and pummeled KJR with indignant e-mails. Clear Channel reacted by pulling all 80's music - more than 110 tracks - from KJR's playlist within 12 hours. For a commercial radio station, that kind of playlist alteration is a big deal.

This is just one of the bits found at Negativland's new Listen Here! archive of audio oddities from the world of radio.

8/26/03 - Truthful Translations Upgraded, Updated [link to this story]

Just a quick note of housekeeping: the Truthful Translations of Political Speech MP3s hosted here have been upgraded from 64 to 128 kbps quality, where the source material allowed for it. I'd estimate more than half got beefier but better sounding. This comes in response to a surprising number of requests from broadcasters (legal and otherwise) who are spreading the subversion far and wide.

The gallery has topped 80 files, a full two-thirds of which do up a single man...way more than I'd ever expected to see/hear. Keep 'em coming!

8/22/03 - RFB Returns; FRSD Gets Grant; RFPI Gets Reprieve [link to this story]

When the FCC came and intimidated Radio Free Brattleboro off the air in June, the Vermont community responded with zeal. A parade float, petition drive, and countless benefits and station meetings later, the station returned to the airwaves today on 107.9 FM. That frequency is currently vacant, but there is a pending LPFM application for it. RFB has promised to vacate the frequency if and when the license is awarded and the station is ready to broadcast.

A local petition drive has drawn "way more than 2,000 signatures" in support of the station, reports RFB's Steven Twiss: "The petition's signatories include several area heavy-hitters including politicians, business owners and artists. One, a wonderful older woman, is on the town council. She bought a 'Free rfb' T-shirt and wore it to a few council meetings, which are broadcast on the local cable access channel." There is also an online petition drive for anyone else interested in symbolically standing with them.

As we have seen in the past, getting "official" recognition from the community seems to keep the FCC away, or at least slows them down. Considering that Brattleboro is a community of 12,000, having one out of every five or six citizens onboard already demonstrates a strong sign of community solidarity.

More good news in San Diego: Free Radio San Diego 96.9 FM has received a grant from the San Diego Foundation For Change, which will be used for "youth outreach" programs. The first one, a station-building workshop, will be held next month.

Other LPFM news: Mikey Powell is officially backpedaling from the public backlash against his media consolidation crusade; he's launching a task force on localism and has promised to expedite LPFM applications in the pipeline - some of which have languished for two years or more. Rumor also has it that the FCC may actually open up a window for 10-watt LPFM station licenses in the near future. And in a blast from the past, Tom Ness is resurrecting the Michigan Music is World Class campaign, in which he collected several dozen resolutions from local governments around the state in support of the LPFM service. He plans to collect a lot more this time, circulating a draft co-authored by the Prometheus Radio Project.

Finally, Radio For Peace International is back to somewhat normal operations after the University for Peace's siege of the station was called off on August 18. The station and university have agreed to talks which will begin on September 4 and are scheduled to end on October 31, and both sides have agreed to keep their beefs quiet in the interim.

8/19/03 - San Francisco to FCC: Hands off SFLR [link to this story]

This time, the vote was unanimous: the resolution condemning the FCC's moves against San Francisco Liberation Radio got the support of the city's full 11-member Board of Supervisors at its meeting this afternoon. Not only does the resolution ask the FCC to keep its mitts off SFLR, but it also "urges state and local law enforcement officials to refrain from involvement in activities that prevent San Francisco Liberation Radio 93.7 FM and other diverse local media from providing healthy democratic local media in the San Francisco Bay Area."

That should keep most of the dogs at bay, but the FCC doesn't have to listen to the city if it doesn't want to. Usually the agency is loath to stir up publicity for a pirate, and while SFLR isn't the first microradio station to get an endorsement from its hometown, the action can't hurt. Free Speech Radio News is also airing a story on SFLR and its recent struggles on Wednesday.

8/18/03 - SF Liberation Radio: First Step Toward City Endorsement [link to this story]

On Thursday the San Francisco City Services Committee approved a resolution supporting San Francisco Liberation Radio in its struggle with the FCC. The vote was 2-1; the lone dissenter was concerned with the city butting in on a "federal issue," not with the station's unlicensed status. The full Board of Supervisors takes up the resolution tomorrow.

8/17/03 - IBOC Overhaul: Good As Advertised? [link to this story]

Digital radio is essentially streaming audio over the air. Anyone who's handled an audio file knows the rule of thumb: the better the bitrate, the better the sound. In the file-sharing community most songs are offered is 128kbps - okay, not CD quality, but not cruddy like a tape dub. Some audio encoders offer better quality than others, due to subtle differences in the encoding algorithm each system uses.

For "HD Radio," the U.S. brand name for digital radio, the bitrate for most stations is expected to be between 64-96kbps, with AM running as low as 36kbps. iBiquity, the company behind the system, promises "enhanced sound fidelity" at these bitrates. In May the National Radio Systems Committee disagreed, suspending the official standard-setting process for the IBOC technology (at the heart of "HD Radio") after declaring its audio quality unsuitable for broadcast, jeopardizing the full-scale rollout of consumer receivers for that all-important holiday season in the process.

Three months later, after some turnover at the executive level, iBiquity says it has achieved a "breakthrough" - it swapped out its crappy encoding algorithm for a new one, developed jointly with Swedish firm Coding Technologies - and claims to "achieve the level of performance needed for low bit-rate audio quality." In the same release, the chairman of the NRSC calls it "spectacular." Nobody's heard it yet - at least not in real-world tests on IBOC-equipped stations. It also changes nothing about IBOC's fundamental flaw: bandwidth hoggery compared to analog signals.

Boiled down at this stage, "HD Radio" appears to be nothing much more than marginal-quality streaming audio...with text. Truly radio for the 21st century!

8/16/03 - August Amendment One: Capitalizing Media Reform [link to this story]

Like it or not, to run with the big dogs in Congress it takes funds. Money, moolah, dinero, cash, the stuff everyone likes but others would rather not think about. Don Schellhardt gives a glimpse of the hard reality: even the cost of postage is out of most of our means individually, if one were to go into lobbying full-time. People also need to be paid for spending time on the Hill.

In completely unrelated news, the latest addition to Truthful Translations of Political Speech deserves special mention. Tom Compagnoni perfectly beat-matches the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Australia with G.W. Bush in WMD - American Justice (MP3, 1.7 MB). This is, amazingly, just Track One of a forthcoming album's worth.

As the G.W. material itself is growing fastest (nearing 60!), I took the liberty of assembling a "best of Bush II" page. The selection is completely subjective and subject to change with time.

8/9/03 - Partial Hiatus Ahoy & Miscellaneous Notes [link to this story]

Look for more sporadic news updates this month as I hunker down and pound out major portions of my master's thesis. Regular refreshes (like the Schnazz) will continue, and news updates will occur if the story's is big or unique, both of which could happen considering the FCC's official implementation of its media ownership rule revisions takes place on September 4.

All of the coordinated grassroots media reform e-mail and call-in campaigns have worked so well to date that a big petition push is now on, and a national conference on media reform is slated for November 7-9 here in Madison. The Amherst Alliance has also ginned up a double-sided flyer for "LPFM Summer," which is starting to hit full stride.

The face-to-face meetings combined with the petition should lay a great foundation for further last-minute lobbying come September 2, when Congress reconvenes for the fall.

Plans for a mass microbroadcast on Media Democracy Day continue to progress as well. As articulated previously, the idea is for microradio stations around the country to collaborate on providing content for a day-long broadcast. The initial idea divides the day up into segments, which each microradio station simultaneously broadcasting and webcasting their signals to a central server, which then would feed dozens more stations. So far there's about a half-dozen stations interested in participating in the mass microbroadcast, and the word has yet to really percolate.

Finally, the folks at the A-Infos Radio Project find themselves in dire straits - they provide freeform audio distribution services to more than 20,000 people every month, and they do it all with no budget. Occasionally funding crunches like these come along (the last few have involved expansions of storage space), and this time around it's the bandwidth bill.

It would be a tragedy for the Project to get strangled; for seven years it has been one of the premier free sources for independent radio programs available. They rightly point out that if each person who uses the site donates a dollar they'd be rolling in dough. They have more than earned that dollar.

8/5/03 - RFPI Lockout Surprise [link to this story]

On Monday officials with the University for Peace attempted to make good on their threat to evict Radio for Peace International from its studios on the University campus (even though RFPI owns the building). This comes after a previous agreement worked out following the eviction notice sent last month in which both sides were supposed to sit down and discuss their problems on August 11.

RFPI staff had been operating on the timetable of the agreement, so when they showed up for work Monday and the initial attempt to enter the building was rebuffed there was plenty of shock to go around. The station's web site has been modified accordingly, and a Save RFPI site is now operational as well.

Democracy Now! is on the story and the short interview sheds some interesting light on the roots of the conflict. Even the U.N.'s University for Peace is being forced to follow the flag of corporate globalization, and RFPI may be a casualty in the struggle against that.

8/4/03 - Florida Broadcasters Change Tactics Against Pirates [link to this story]

An article in the business section of Sunday's Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper highlights the "pirate problem" in southern Florida and features lots of quotes from irate broadcast industry-types. My favorite comes from David Ross, Clear Channel's regional vice president for its 27 south Florida broadcast properties:

"They're destroying the ability of listeners to hear what they choose and our ability to serve advertisers. It's a form of squatting. They don't pay any taxes, they're breaking the law, they don't need to meet any licensing requirements and they affect all of us, from the biggest to the smallest operator." While there is a huge mass of pirate activity in Florida, making that state the most active by far, one gets the sense Ross would say the same thing in any situation where there's "pirates."

It should be noted that many south Florida pirates program to specific ethnic communities and often run commercials for businesses in those communities - giving listeners in those communities a choice and serving advertisers as well.

The article notes Clear Channel actively hunts pirates in south Florida. The FCC is credited with shutting down "about 900" pirate stations nationwide since 1999 - double the number claimed just 10 months ago - but as we've discussed previously there's no way you can trust that number.

The meat of this story begins near the end of the article and involves two recent station busts in Fort Lauderdale and Lauderdale Lakes, triggered at the behest of WXEL, the National Public Radio affiliate in Boynton Beach. The FCC was not involved in these busts; Broward County Sheriff's deputies and building inspectors moved on the stations and charged them with "municipal code violations and failure to prove ownership of radio equipment."

Said Broward County Sheriff's Department Captain Larry DeFuria, "If pirates are operating illegally in one venue, they're probably operating illegally in another. We're shoveling against the tide, but where we have the time and ability, we'll do this in the future."

He suggests the broadcast industry lobby for a state law to make pirate radio a crime; C. Patrick Roberts, president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, thinks that's a great idea and says "the group is already moving toward that goal."

"A slap on the wrist doesn't work," he said. "Unless people get put in jail, they'll keep coming back." Shades of 1998 come to mind, when the number of pirate enforcement actions more than doubled after an industry call for a national crackdown...

8/1/03 - Latest Amendment One: "LPFM Summer" [link to this story]

Don Schellhardt's newest column is about a grassroots lobbying effort taking place over the next couple of months while Congress takes a summer break: call your Senators and Representatives and bug them at home about media reform.

The goal is twofold: build momentum for rollback of the FCC's June media ownership rule changes and convince Congress to restore the FCC's LPFM service to its original parameters.

Since the political conditions are ripe for success on both fronts, the timing for such a campaign couldn't be better.