Minneapolis Star Tribune
November 28, 1997

Crowd Surfing

Freed at last is back on the airwaves

By Jim Meyer

The FCC still has his equipment under lock and key, but dance music DJ and broadcasting activist Alan Freed is back on the air. Legally.

Freed is the founder of unlicensed, low-power, dance-music station Beat Radio 97.7, which gained a sizable street buzz in Minneapolis before it was shut down by the FCC on Nov. 1, 1996. Now, after a year of silence -- and of planning his legal defense -- Freed has been allotted three hours a week for "Beat Radio on KFAI" (90.3 FM and106.7 FM).

The show, which debuted Monday from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., features new dance music, plus mix sets by local club DJs such as PD Spinlove (First Avenue) and Walter McLean (the Saloon).

"At least it gets the programming back on the air," says Freed, "but this is not a substitute for Beat Radio. We still are fighting for the larger issue."

To comprehend the larger issue -- access to the airwaves -- try to imagine what would happen if the U.S. Supreme Court decided to outlaw newspapers with a circulation below 10,000. The idea seems ludicrous, yet something similar has occurred in radio.

In 1978, the Federal Communications Commission stopped licensing radio stations below 100 watts as a way of "cleaning up" the dial. Willing operators still can run an unlicensed low-power signal, but if a fully licensed station complains, the FCC will shut them down, just as it did Beat Radio. (KNXR-97.5 FM in Rochester complained of interference from Beat Radio, even though Freed's 20-watt signal couldn't pass Richfield.)

The commission's cleanup was questionable at the time, but it has become a back-breaker when combined with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which eased restrictions on multiple media ownership in a market. The effects have been felt here the past year, with bewildering centralization of radio ownership (e.g., Rev 105 buying KCFE, KQ/The Edge buying Rev 105) and constant format changes.

Freed's fight is based on the concern that in the current big-money media climate, only the most profitable -- and traditional -- formats are likely to get a play. According to Freed: "If they figure dance music won't bring enough return on a 20-million-dollar investment, fine. Let us do it. A station like Beat Radio can fill the void without the high risk."

Freed, who has worked locally at KBEM, KMOJ, WWTC (oldies and rock formats), and former smooth-jazz station KTCJ (AM 690) doesn't relish breaking the law. Nor does the persnickety programmer identify with covertly defiant pirate broadcasters. He would welcome the opportunity to attain a proper license and its accompanying supervision, but the FCC refuses.

Freed, the senior music and radio editor for the urban music trade magazine Impact, has been financing his lonely legal fight through monthly dance nights and direct donations, but appears to be gaining broader support for his cause. During the recent elections, another local, low-power operator transmitted "Ballot Box Radio," a week-long music and social-affairs broadcast that Minneapolis mayoral challenger Barbara Carlson used to her advantage.

Last week, Freed received encouraging news: A California district court rejected the FCC's request for a summary injunction against a similar low-power operator, Stephen Dunifer of alternative news source "Free Radio Berkeley." He also has made common cause with Americans for Radio Diversity, a collection of local attorneys and broadcast activists who monitor the effects of the media Monopoly game.

Whether or not you favor a dance-music format, the FCC and Congress's recent actions make the airwaves increasingly monolithic, while the culture at large is becoming more diverse and complex. Freed is willing to take his case to the Supreme Court to reverse this seemingly un-American trend. "You can't implement laws and regulations if they are unconstitutional," says Freed, "and they're unconstitutional because they're overly oppressive, and they are not in the best interest of the people."

Beat Radio is heard at 2 a.m. Monday mornings on KFAI Radio (90.3 FM & 106.7 FM). For a review of news articles, or to hear a sample broadcast: www.beatworld.com. Contact Americans for Radio Diversity at www.radiodiversity.com.

Sound sampler

To hear excerpts from artists on this page, dial 612-673-9050 and press these numbers:

Beat Radio sample.................................5440
[note: now expired]

[ Star Tribune 1 | Star Tribune 2 | Star Tribune 3 | Star Tribune 5 | Star Tribune 6 | Star Tribune 7 | Star Tribune 8 | Star Tribune 9 | Star Tribune 10 | Star Tribune 11 | Beat Press main ]