Channel 4000 (website of WCCO-TV/AM)
September 12, 1997
Banned 'Beat Radio' Presses Its Case
Unplugged By Feds, Dismissed in Court, Station Fights On
Kevin Featherly, Channel 4000 Staff Writer
Though it has lost its battles thus far, Beat Radio vows it will continue to fight the power.
The Minneapolis "micro-broadcast" FM station was shut down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year for operating without a license, and its transmission equipment was seized. Beat Radio filed court action to get it back, but last week a federal judge effectively threw the case out by saying his court had no jurisdiction over it.
U.S. Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Davis declined even to consider the merits of Beat Radio's case, which rests primarily on contentions that FCC regulations barring the station's existence violate the First Amendment right to free speech.
But Beat Radio owner and operator Alan Freed told Channel 4000 Wednesday that he plans to press his case against the FCC at the next legal level - the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"This isn't the end of this case," Freed said.
Twin Cities residents with an appreciation for the dance music styles known as "house," "acid jazz," "trip hop" and the like, might remember Beat Radio. The tiny pirate station made a short-lived splash in the local underground music scene late last year before being unceremoniously unplugged.
The 20-watt station fixed at 97.7 on the local FM dial operated, as they say, outside the law. It broadcast without a federal license, out of Freed's high-rise apartment in the Loring Park area. It had an effective reach of less than 12 miles.
FCC agents seized the station's transmission equipment on Nov. 1, 1996, silencing it after only 103 days of operation. Its remnants now exist primarily on the station's Web site.
Freed, a veteran of numerous "legitimate" Twin Cities radio stations in his career, charges that the federal government infringed on his First Amendment rights by shutting his station down, while offering him no way to meet the government's legal requirements.
"The FCC provides no means for us to comply with the law," Freed said. "It does not license any station under 100 watts, even if there is space for it on the dial."
The local bureau of the FCC has been silent on the Beat Radio matter, but it did issue a brief statement to the media after Davis' ruling was handed down last Friday.
"The FCC is very pleased with the ruling of the district court," the statement by Agent F.M. Evans said.
Survival of the Biggest
Twenty watts of power is small potatoes for a radio station. Compare Beat Radio's wattage, and its geographic reach, to WCCO-Radio. The "Good Neighbor" reaches most of Minnesota with its massive 50,000 watts of power.
Freed says he wouldn't have broadcast beyond 20 watts even were he able to buy the necessary equipment to do so. Had the station transmitted at even a mere 100 watts, other stations, particularly a Rochester station fixed on the adjacent 97.5 FM position, might have experienced signal interference.
Freed says his station did not interfere with the Rochester station, but he nonetheless believes a complaint from that station is what drew Beat Radio to the attention of the feds.
"The reason the station was silenced was because of competitive complaints from other stations," he said. "The FCC has said in various forums that it is a complaint-driven agency."
Freed says that means the FCC is being unfairly selective in the way it chooses to quash micro-broadcasters. He says there are currently about three dozen unlicensed micro-broadcasters in the United States who operate openly and with with regular schedules. But the government has shut down fewer than 10 such stations over the last 12 months.
However, the 100-watt rule isn't the only stumbling block to Beat Radio's above-board existence.
The 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act effectively deregulated the radio industry, making it possible for conglomerates to own up to eight stations in a single market. This move directly resulted in the death of kindred-spirit station Rev 105, which was dealt a death knell when KQRS owners ABC purchased the station and changed its format to straight hard rock. That eliminated the Rev as competition to ABC's own local alternative rock station, 93.7 The Edge, even though the Rev's fans said there were distinct differences between the two operations.
The creation of such virtual monopolies all over the United States has driven the value of radio stations to soaring levels. That has placed citizen airwave access out of the reach of most people, Freed said.
"I think the larger issue is the Telecommunications Act and what it has done to American radio broadcasting," Freed said. "The big are getting bigger and the small are disappearing. What we are trying to do now is not to balance the scales, but at least bring some more equilibrium. ...Things are terribly out of balance."
Freed insists that his fight to relax FCC restrictions on micro-broadcasting is no indication that he wants to overturn the rights of corporate radio operators. Rather, he said, he wants to fight for the right of qualified, talented niche broadcasters to get on the air, in order to serve more tastes and a greater portion of the overall public interests.
"It's a real-estate-on-the-dial issue," he said.
Right now, too much of that real estate is in corporate hands, Freed said. The deaths of stations like Beat Radio and the Rev, Freed said, are powerful evidence that corporate interests are being placed too far out front of the public's interest.
"The interest of balance is not being met," Freed said. "In our view, the listeners are getting the short end of the stick."
Beat Radio's online chronicle:
* Beat Radio's fight to re-establish its presence on the airwaves is completely chronicled on its Web site, www.beatworld.com.
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