St. Paul Pioneer Press
February 28, 1998

Brian Lambert

media critic

'Beat' goes on, but FCC rules need revision

While we're pleased to hear "Beat Radio" back on the air thanks to its recent arrangement with WWTC-AM (1280, formerly "Radio Aahs"), the larger battle for "micro-broadcasting" is yet to be won.

Beat Radio, a dance-music format, was shut down by the FCC on Nov. 1, 1996, for broadcasting (at 25 watts) without a license from an apartment near Loring Park in Minneapolis. Founder Alan Freed and dozens of other mildly anarchic operators across the country are still fighting separate legal battles to rewrite seriously archaic government regulations.

The demise of Radio Aahs has opened the way for Beat Radio 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week at 1280, in addition to "Beat Radio on KFAI" (90.3 FM in Minneapolis, 106.7 in St. Paul) Sunday nights from 2 to 5 a.m.

At issue in the Beat Radio case, as with most other "pirate broadcasters," is the laughable assertion that they are interfering with FCC-licensed stations. This is, to use one analogy, a little like saying the 2,000-circulation Roadkill Wyoming Beacon-News is a threat to USA Today and therefore should not be allowed to publish.

One of the parties instrumental in forcing the FCC to act against Beat Radio in 1996, on a claim of signal interference, was a station in Rochester, Minnesota!

In point of fact, operations such as the pre-WWTC Beat Radio have so little power that they're rarely a factor beyond a couple of miles from their point of origination. More importantly, in a cultural-philosophical context, low-cost, low-power broadcasters such as Freed and Beat Radio are closer to the spirit of democracy and free-enterprise than the current FCC policy which protects a steadily shrinking club of billion-dollar broadcasters and their generic, one-size-fits-all formats and computer-tuned play lists.

With that in mind, the FCC recently proposed a license for 1-watt broadcasters. Big whoop. One-watt is kind of like saying you're free to broadcast from your basement to your attic, weather permitting.

Freed and his counterparts are arguing for an FCC license for broadcasters pushing up to 100-watts. (Such a license existed 20 years ago.)

There's an obvious free- (or at least "cheap"-) speech component to this issue, and we should all wish Beat Radio the best.

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