This past weekend John from DIYmedia.net and I attended the Radio Access Democracy conference which functioned as the close to the Radio Re-Volt project at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which I mentioned last month. We both participated in two panels: “What’s up at the FCC,” and “Making Alternative Media.”
The highlight of the conference for me was the Friday night keynote address by Tetsuo Kogawa, the father of mini-FM in Japan, which is the precursor to micropower radio in the US. Despite technical difficulties that prevented him from adequately showing all the multimedia elements he had planned for his talk, Tetsuo kept the too-small audience’s rapt attention for nearly two hours. He discussed the history of the mini-FM movement in Japan, starting in the 1970s, and its evolution into a wider phenomenon.
The article “From Mini-FM to Polymorphous Radio” by Kogawa presents a similar overview, without the benefit of the pictures and video he showed during his keynote.
Kogawa’s warmth and informal manner really won people over. Much to our luck, he attended the whole of the conference, including many of the panels, and participated equally with all the attendees. John was very excited when Kogawa approached him after our “Making Alternative Media” session to ask a question.
During midday on Saturday the final transmitter building workshop of the Radio Re-Volt was held, where about 30 participants finished off the last of the transmitter kits, building them into items like purses and 8-track tapes.
On Saturday night there was a performance called Radio 4X4 which featured four radio and sound artists in the center of the room peforming into low-powered transmitters. Radios tuned to their frequencies were placed about the room so that you could hear different mixes of the sound as you walked about. One of the participating artists was Tom Roe of free103point9, a NYC-based radio arts organization that participated in the August Coalition’s no-RNC protest coverage.
Also on Saturday was a screening of the pirate radio documentary Making Waves which covers three stations in the Tuscon, AZ scene. Filmmaker Michael Lahey was our gracious host, allowing John and I to crash at his place. The film succeeds where others have flailed because Lahey brings a strong sense of story, focusing primarily on the drama within station KVRL, run and financed by eccentric Constitutional-rights fanatics who have difficulty getting along with each other, and with the local law.
In Making Waves, Lahey also provides a very clear synopsis of licensed low-power FM and how it was eviscerated by Congress. Animator Steven Stwalley graphically explicates the issue and controversy of how stations are spaced on the radio dial, making this arcane concept crystal clear to non-radio geeks.
Thanks to John, I was lucky enough to view Making Waves before meeting Michael. The screening of the film at the conference was packed with an enthusiastic crowd, and Michael was able to sell several copies of the DVD right there.
Michael is a great guy (and a U of I alum), and I was glad that John and I got a chance to hang out with him, have some beers and talk pirate radio and video production geekery. It’s with total sincerity that I say that Making Waves is the best film on pirate radio that I’ve seen, and is head and shoulders above most indy docs in production values, even though it was shot on basic prosumer DV camcorders.
I was a little disappointed that the conference wasn’t held at the Walker Art Center, which is undergoing renovation. I’ve heard great things about the Walker and was hoping to see more of it. However, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design was also a fine venue, proving plenty of space for both the sessions and for participants to meet and talk.
With a good conference you leave wishing you’d had more time to catch everything and talk with people (with lesser conferences you’re just glad it’s over) — and that’s how I felt on Sunday morning when we left Minneapolis. It was a blast being around a group of people so excited about and committed to micropower and grassroots radio. Even a group of pirates from around Michigan and Iowa showed up, and were very excited to meet John after reading his website all these years.
My best hope is that at least 10% of the 400 or so transmitters built during the Radio Re-Volt project continue to see regular use. The point is to take the airwaves back.