The non-music music zine
Issue 54/55, April 1997
Where Is Beat Radio Now?
By Kimberley Yurkiewicz
No, this isn't another pity-all-of-us-we-have-no-radio-station story (although it would be ok if it was, not having Rev anymore DOES suck), it's a story about the bullshit we encounter when swimming through that boggy marsh of red tape known as bureaucracy. This time, it's the Federal Communications Commission and its latest victim...it's beloved Beat Radio. Spending a brief 100 days grooving behinds at 97.7 on the dial, the all-dance format station was bullied out of its dancin' shoes as well as out of business simply because of a law that actually contradicts the commission itself. Confused? Stay with me
Last summer, Alan Freed had the technical know-how, the financial means, and the motivation to start up a low-power broadcast station (they aren't pirates, so don't label them as such). A veteran of radio, he and friends figured they only live once, that the Twin Cities had relatively little competition in regard to the number of stations in the market, and that nobody else was doing an all-dance format, so why not? They weren't in it for the money or for fattened egos, but because they liked it, and soon, with the help of local DJs, so did a lot of others. With piles of posted and e-mailed fan letters, Alan thought they were on their way. He wanted to avoid being "just a jukebox," intending to develop Beat Radio with more of a community feel, a sort of "local server," after witnessing an oblivious corporate detachment in the other mega-stations he disapprovingly calls blow torches. But (of course there's a but), because a Rochester station at 97.5 decided to be the playground tattle-tale, Beat Radio was discovered (more like hunted down) as an unlicensed broadcaster and ordered to stop the music.
The crux of the law is this: to get an operating license, you have to have at least 100 watts (Beat Radio was 20), and then the FCC has to find space for you to fit in on the dial, while simultaneously not causing interference with any other neighboring stations. Well, historically, the planning of the dial space here in the Twin Cities is amazingly inefficient. Despite the few stations we do have, there still aren't any spaces left. After the aforementioned 97.5 station complained about the previous 97.7 residents -- a secondary or "translator" station feeding off a Duluth station via satellite -- causing interference, the FCC ordered that station to stop their broadcast and they complied. Alan then picked 97.7 to be the home of Beat Radio knowing that there was no way 20 watts could run interference with a station down in Rochester, but they complained anyway. The FCC investigated and a local field agent sent Alan a letter that threatened jail time and hefty fines if they continued to broadcast. Broadcast they did. Then came the manhunt complete with U.S. Marshals and a full seizure of all of Beat Radio's equipment.
The FCC succeeded in what they planned to do. Their objective was simply to stop the unlicensed broadcasting. Beat Radio and their lawyers, however, had just gotten started. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press..." Alan and friends are fighting against what they see as in infringement on their basic constitutional rights. More importantly, they are angry over the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which overturned the one-to-a-market rule making it illegal for corporations to own more than one AM station, one FM station, and one TV station per market. This allows huge corporations like Disney/ABC Radio to buy out 7 or 8 stations in one market if they want. With mega-stations blasting out 1 billion watts of radio, no other stations, licensed or not, are going to be able to compete in the market. It is completely working against low-power radio and against competition. Ironically, the FCC lists representing the public interest, protecting the public airwaves, and encouraging competition as some of their goals. Alan protests, "they are not regulating efficiently, nor are they operating in the interest of the people." He argues that if the FCC can find the money and resources to track them down, etc..., they should be able to figure out and implement a plan for low-power radio. They just won't. It's all about big business, big advertisers, and big cash. The vote in the House of Representatives for the Telecom Act was 414-16. Only 16 people voted for the little guy! Thank DFL'ers Collin Peterson and Paul Wellstone (in the Senate) for their crusading efforts.
So what does this all mean? It means we should pay more attention to the laws that govern us. If you vote for Candidate X, know what Candidate X stands for, for God's sake. Get involved. These politics are ruling your lives! Be a principled, selective consumer...you'll complain about a fly in your soup, but not about the diminished quality of radio you seem so insistent on preserving/lamenting? And finally, support the individuals fighting to keep alternative choices on the airwaves. There is a Beat Radio Defense Fund you can contribute to, they have benefits at the Saloon and South Beach you can shake your thing at, and a website (www.beatworld.com) you can peruse to get more information. Call 612.391.BEAT for details.
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