Beat Radio

Minnesota Daily
A&E Odds & Ends
October 30, 1997
By Ryan Kallberg


It's been about a year since the FCC shut down Alan Freed's homegrown and unlicensed Beat Radio, formerly broadcast at 97.7 on the FM band. In that time, the corporate conglomerates that enjoy free access to the public airwaves have made a series of financially motivated (or "harebrained," if you're a mortal like the rest of us) programming changes that have left discriminating listeners with the sneaking suspicion that they were about to be screwed again.

And in that time, the frequency that Freed used for his low-power broadcasts has remained dormant. It still is. But if you tune your radio to 95.7 on the FM dial, you'll hear something guaranteed to send the National Association of Broadcasters into screaming fits: a radio station they don't own.

For a week, anyway. Make no mistake -- the station is broadcasting illegally, although hardly unconstitutionally. And considering that the FCC tends to respond to microbroadcasters with the same overpowering contempt the Justice Department reserves for the most hardline militia groups, the station operators have wisely chosen to structure their civil disobedience as a short demonstration rather than a full-on war.

The station -- which, at 25 watts, would need to boost its signal 4,000 times over to match the strength of some of the Twin Cities' more prominent earsores -- should be receivable in the downtown/uptown/campus area. Turn on at the right time, and you'll hear some recognizable local personalities -- one of which may come as a surprise (which I won't spoil), given the unambiguous illegality involved in unlicensed radio.

Broadcasting a wild melange of music as well as news on local issues, station operators hope to use their 168 hours on the air to show the community what micropower radio can do, and by corollary what macropowered multi-million dollar stations can't. The frequency will be claimed for the public interest -- an interest that's pretty universally ignored by commercial stations, whose commitment to public service seems to begin and end with the Emergency Broadcast System.

After a week the station, having made its point, will probably shut down voluntarily. Low-power broadcast will still be illegal. Money-mongering corporate interests will still own most of the small collection of frequencies supposedly reserved for the public good. The FCC will still serve as facilitator for those interests, a role contrary to its mandate to ensure that the airwaves are operated as part of the public trust. And the First Amendment, which is older than any of the players involved here, will still say what it always has: that our right to free speech shall not be abridged, blah blah blah. You know the rest. If you don't, turn your radio off and go to your local library. You're in for some surprises.

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