March 12, 1999
After years of raids and equipment seizures against pirate radio, the Federal Communications Commission has reversed itself and proposed licensing low-watt FM stations. The FCC says it wants to diversify the monopoly-controlled airwaves by getting licenses into the hands of minorities and women. So you can expect local favorites like Silver Lake's KBLT (alternative music from a woman, Paige Jarrett) and Highland Park's Spanish-language Radio Clandestina (culturally relevant news and entertainment) back on the air, right? Wrong. Despite its public kiss-and-make-up stance, the FCC's proposed rules could disqualify any operator who has been busted for outlaw broadcasts from getting a license. In other words, "the Rosa Parks of the micro-radio movement - people who have stood up and maintained that the law is unconstitutional" - may be banned from the industry they pioneered, says Lyn Gerry of www.radio4all.org. (Jarrett was among 10 California pirate broadcasters shut down by the FCC in 1998.)
OffBeat High Seas for Pirate Radio
Even if the FCC rejects the ban, a big lobbying effort is expected from the heavyweight radio-industry trade group, the National Association of Broadcasters. What is the NAB's take on sharing the airwaves with alternative and neighborhood micro-stations? "Bad, bad, bad," says spokesperson John Earnhardt. Mike Bracy of the Low Power Radio Coalition in Washington, D.C., says the NAB packs a punch inside the Beltway "as strong as the tobacco and firearm lobby." And Congress, with its penchant for kowtowing to special interests, has the statutory muscle to bring the FCC plans to a screeching halt at any time. The FCC proposed the new licensing after receiving 13,000 Web-site hits and phone calls protesting commercial hegemony over the airwaves; the public can weigh in on the proposed rules before April 12 at www.fcc.gov/e-file/ecfs.html (mmdocket#99-25). "If people don't comment, they lose their opportunity to influence the FCC," Bracy says.
- Sara Dunn
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