Jose Fritz of the great Arcane Radio Trivia has been traveling around and writing about what he hears on different regional radio dials. He just posted from the Seattle-Tacoma area and it’s interesting that he picks up a very diverse set of noncommercial stations featuring indie rock, NPR news, jazz and even dance music. He also picks up a couple of pirate stations in Seattle, including “The Whore” 101.9 broadcasting from the Capitol Hill neighborhood since 2008.
Category: pirate/free radio
I’m a little bummed that I didn’t know about this project that happened in my Chicago neighborhood this past weekend – People’s Radio at Mess Hall:
People’s Radio will be a fully functioning radio station aimed at promoting alternative and local points of view, non-mainstream music, creating a dialogue about the “Commons”, and to demystify radio.
We will be webstreaming at
or, if you are in the vicinity, during the festival you can tune in at 104.7 FM
This is the culmination of two weekends of workshops conducted by members of Radios Populares. (www.radiospopulares.org) where people learned how radio works, how to build antennas, and how to set up a webstream.
I intended to get over to the Glenwood Arts Fest, but as many intentions go, it didn’t happen.
The webstream is down already and I’ll check out 104.7 FM when I get home, though I’d guess it’s no longer on the air either. I don’t know what kind of power they were using, if it was Part 15 (and therefore legal to use without a license) or higher. In any event, using a radio broadcast for short durations at events is a very effective use of the technology that mitigates many of the complications (and risks, if you’re using more than Part -15 power) associated with running regular or constant broadcasts, while also concentrating energies to demonstrate the power of broadcasting, especially when made accessible.
I hope the event was successful and might see a repeat.
Last night I finally watched Pirate Radio (a/k/a The Boat That Rocked) on HD pay-per-view, as it seems I can never make it into a regular movie theater these days. I quite enjoyed this romp through the short life of a fictional 1960s UK pirate radio ship, inspired by the infamous Radio Caroline. While the film exaggerates things for drama and laughs, it nevertheless does a good job at illustrating the significance of pirate rock ‘n roll radio to a nation whose mainstream government-run media was stuck in a rigid cultural torpor, utterly in denial of rock’s brewing revolution. And it does this without sanctimony or excessive sentimentality.
Just before watching Pirate Radio I realized that yesterday was also the 46th anniversary of Radio Caroline, which didn’t meet its fate quite as dramatically as the fictional movie ship. Then today I stumbled upon a very good short documentary about the contemporary London pirate radio scene. Altogether I was inspired to write my newest piece for Radio Survivor on UK Pirate Radio, Now and Then:
What many probably don’t realize is that pirate radio is still going strong in the UK, especially in big cities like London. Contemporary pirates are also inspired by the fact that the BBC still doesn’t play a lot of cutting edge popular music, which these days means electronic music and British forms of hip-hop….
A short blog post from Monk, formerly the brains behind the first iteration of Boulder Free Radio KBFR, reports that two separate unlicensed stations in Boulder, CO were recently “shut down” by the FCC. A new KBFR with new a new crew behind it has been operating in Boulder since sometime last year. Monk has no other details on these recent shut downs.
So I set about investigating what might be going on, since Boulder has been the site of free radio innovation for quite some time. I’ve not been able to find any news reports on any bust, but a check of the FCC’s most recent enforcement actions turns up four virtually identical Notices of Unlicensed Operation (NOUO) dated May 8. Three were issued to individuals and one was issued simply to “Boulder Free Radio, Boulder, CO.” There’s no indication in the NOUOs that the FCC talked to anyone associated with the station or gained access to a transmitter. Unusually, there aren’t even any street addresses listed. Likely this means that agents didn’t mail the notices, but left them at the door.
This evening I received email confirmation from Boulder Free Radio that there was another FCC visit to a transmitter location last Friday, May 29, and that they’re off the air. They’re planning to stay off the air for the time being while they assess the situation. However, their web radio stream continues to broadcast (on the internet only, of course).
The current KBFR is operating according to a similar gameplan as the original station, using the tactic of separating the studio and transmitter using an internet audio stream as the studio-to-transmitter-link (STL). If the transmitter is visited they pack up shop there and move to a new location without the studio or the on-air talent being affected. This method ostensibly allows the station to have a sizable staff of DJs without having to divulge to them the location of the transmitter, or expose the DJs to liability for the unlicensed broadcast.
Indeed, with this method there really isn’t any need for the persons behind the web stream to even know the persons operating the transmitters. This method also has been employed during large protest actions, where a live webstream will originate from a convergence center or Independent Media Center which is then rebroadcast for the duration of the protest by anonymous, unrelated pirates.
Monk and the original KBFR were able to keep up this tactic for nearly five years of cat and mouse games with the unusually aggressive Denver FCC office. He finally called it a day in January, 2005. According to Monk, the FCC agent on their case
bordered on (and in talking to lawyers we know, actually crossed the line) illegal activity. He harassed private citizens at their work place (accusing them, to their bosses, of ‘breaking the law on company time’) and the aforementioned roommate of the original Monk from Five Years Ago. We’ve since learned that this ex-roomie of the original Monk actually had to hire a lawyer to protect himself from having just been the roommate of one of us. And HALF a DECADE ago. …
The reason we shut down is our fear of innocents getting blamed for things they didn’t do…
Who knows if the FCC will be that aggressive with the new KBFR, especially given that the FCC agent in question supposedly retired four years ago.
As for the second station Monk reports being shut down: I’ve found no other recent actions against unlicensed stations in Boulder in the FCC’s enforcement action list. However I have heard that another station, unrelated to Boulder Free Radio, was operating.
The dramatic image of jackbooted FCC agents breaking down doors and chasing down unlicensed broadcasters is an imagine that has often been exploited by the more romantic elements of the pirate community, but one that really doesn’t match up to reality. Now we have a short article on Wired’s Threat Level blog that takes a look at what writer David Singel says is the FCC’s claim that it has the right to make warrantless searches of private residences in order to inspect any sort of radio transmitter.
However, what the FCC’s spokesman David Fiske is quoted as saying is actually, “Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference.” While I’m not one to archly defend the FCC’s enforcement regime, Fiske’s claim stops a bit short of a warrantless search-and-seizure, or even warrantless wiretapping in severity and scope.
Indeed, as experienced unlicensed broadcasters and FCC observers have known for years, while a visiting FCC agent will always claim to have the right to inspect a suspected unlicensed transmitter, that agent has no means to express that right. That is, FCC agents aren’t cops, don’t carry guns and can’t enter your house or property without your consent. You don’t have to speak with them except to tell them to go away.
If the FCC really wants to come and inspect or seize your transmitter they need to get a real warrant, requested by a real United States attorney and issued by a real federal judge. Then they need to get real cops–usually federal marshals–to actually serve the warrant. This is a big pain for the Commission and not something relished by US attorneys and marshals more interested in nabbing big criminals, so it’s pretty rare.
Still, it is true that if the Commission thinks it has a pretty good case that you’re operating an unlicensed transmitter in an illegal fashion they’ll hold it against you for not cooperating with them, adding to the fine they’ll try to collect. In a case of this vein, Wired’s Singel reports that,
In a 2007 case, a Corpus Christi, Texas, man got a visit from the FCC’s direction-finders after rebroadcasting an AM radio station through a CB radio in his home. An FCC agent tracked the signal to his house and asked to see the equipment; Donald Winton refused to let him in, but did turn off the radio. Winton was later fined $7,000 for refusing entry to the officer. The fine was reduced to $225 after he proved he had little income.
This reduction in fines is a pretty common occurrence with the FCC. An even more common occurrence is the FCC failing to collect on fines at all, as John Anderson of DIYmedia.net has pointed out continuously on his site and on the mediageek radioshow. Again, the amount of bureaucracy and inter-agency cooperation required to actually enforce the collection of fines against unlicensed broadcasters often results in the statute of limitations running out before any money is collected. For instance, reporting on the FCC’s 2006 enforcement actions, John noted,
These cases highlight instances of negative productivity in the enforcement process: the FCC spent much more in resources (personnel-time and travel, to name two) than it will recoup from the punishment meted, provided the five-year statute of limitations on each case doesn’t run out before the agency makes an effort to actually collect the fines.
So, the kerfuffle over the FCC claiming warrantless inspection powers looks like a tempest in a teapot when compared against the reality of the FCC’s powers to inspect, fine and collect. Nevertheless, we should be critical and mindful of any government agency’s claim that it has the right to make warrantless inspections of our private property. Even when it comes to licensed broadcasters the right to inspect is not absolute; the obligation to let the FCC inspect your transmitter only extends as far as your desire to keep your broadcast license. Still, I’ll be glad if an intrepid attorney or radio pirate wants to challenge the FCC’s claimed right to inspect in court.
Last month I reported on news that Indianapolis cops were illegally using amateur radio transceivers in order to engage in communications with each other outside the normal police radio bands. The misuse came to light when the department took away their cops’ illicit radios.
Now, according to the amateur radio group ARRL, the Indianapolis PD assures the FCC that it has taken action to ensure that its officers will engage in radio piracy no more. The ARRL also reports that, “as part of its inquiry, the FCC reminded the IMPD of the large number of tactical channels available on a secondary basis to police departments from the public safety pool of frequency allocations.”
Yeah, but the FCC probably didn’t remind the offending officers that those additional “tactical channels” can be overheard by their commanders and probably aren’t so good for the private conversations full of naughty words they transmitted on the ham bands.
Maybe the Indy cops should just start Twittering.
Although the delay of the DTV transition to June 12 has taken a little wind out of the sails for the potential of a massive rude awakening for an American public unprepared for the sudden obsolescence of their analog TVs, the transition is still going to happen. While more households will have obtained DTV converter boxes (and that’s a good thing), the transition nevertheless will leave a huge swath of temporarily vacant spectrum ripe for the exploiting.
Back in December I blogged about a Pittsburgh-based project called The End of Television which planned an unlicensed analog TV broadcast of submitted videos on the original transition day of Feb. 17. I contacted Ian F. Page for an interview on the radioshow. At that point the transition was still more than two months off, so he suggested we do something over email, saving a phone interview for closer to the transition. Then Congress delayed our fun, but Ian didn’t give up — he just delayed the End of Television until June 12, too.
Ian was kind enough to still agree to do the email interview to explain the motivation behind The End of Television, and its relationship to other unlicensed broadcasting.
mediageek (mg): Please tell me the inspiration for the End of Television project.
Ian F. Page (IFP): I first heard about the transition to digital television a year and a half ago. The idea actually came up because some one explained to me that the streets would be littered with TVs and that there were specific protocols for recycling TVs. I had been thinking about ways to watch videos alternative to screenings and I began making a video that I wanted to show on TV. I had a burgeoning interest in electronics and after a little collaboration discovered that I could accomplish building a transmitter.
mg: Why is the transition to digital television significant, and why did you choose to mark it in this way, with an unlicensed broadcast?
IFP: I have always enjoyed moments in my life where some mandate or alteration in the daily round comes down from the mountain and WE have to adjust. I remember one day in high school when I overheard a classmate talking about how his cable company had switched the numbers of such and such channels. He was riled up about it. It is a totally insignificant change that somehow agitates the self-programmed thoughtlessness. It gives us a glimpse of the human behind the machine, a glimpse at the power of a medium, whatever that machine or medium might be. Daylight savings is another example, or when the fare for the subway goes up, or New Year’s eve. I like these moments and June 12th is another one of them.
I find the June 12th switch amusing in that the switch cannot happen unless people get involved with their televisions, so a passive medium gets a little physical attention. It is also amusing because the whole ordeal shows our faith in everything digital, the event is a nice marker on the way to accepting anything and everything more efficient and newer. The political activity behind the switch is also a loud declaration that TV is a right, not a luxury. The delay was a very interesting revelation for me, to read speculations and think about what it would be like if people didn’t have TV anymore. It brought back a conversation that I hadn’t heard in a while and from, what I read, the debate was really polarized.
mg: Is the project a political statement?
IFP: I am not approaching it in a political way at all, but the project leads to an interesting idea – the privatization of the electromagnetic spectrum. The idea of owning or trespassing on a person’s radio waves is silly to me. I do not think that someone or some corporation should be able to own a frequency. At the same time I do understand the need for regulation and allocation, since so many lives rely on communications.
Companies own wavelengths, like colors for example. John Deere green is just a wavelength like 88.3FM and both are private. The problem is that the frequencies for the public are ever decreasing. There was never any massive preservation projects for the electromagnetic spectrum like there was for parks, so now experimenters are confined to small frequencies. So if you want to experiment with radio waves and not become a ham radio operator, it is inevitable that you trespass.
mg: What relationship, if any, does the project have to unlicensed or pirate radio?
IFP: It is similar, the difference is only that I am modulating a video signal and audio signal onto a radio wave, rather than just an audio signal. That, and it is at a different frequency, but otherwise they are the same.
mg: Are you willing to share the technical details of your broadcast set up?
IFP: The set up is mostly commercial equipment and some modified ham radio equipment, nothing out of reach.
mg: How many submissions have you received? Can you tell us about any of the more interesting ones?
IFP: To date there are over 30 hours of footage, with more submissions coming in hopefully. The submission deadline is May 25th. I was excited to receive a submission from tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, a local filmmaker who is getting involved in the project. The video is something he has wanted to have on TV for a while now and we are glad to give his work the setting it needs.
mg: Finally, besides the obvious need to delay the debut of the project, is there any other affect the June delay of the digital TV transition has?
IFP: The delay revealed to me the elaborate process a bill has to go through to get passed. It also means not as many stations will be turning off at one moment, which potentially lessens the impact of the project on the viewing audience, since there are more people prepared to receive digital television and not analog. Other than that, it is pretty much the same.
Thanks for the interview, Ian!
The End of Television is accepting submissions on VHS or miniDV tape through May 25. Send to:
The End of Television
331 S. Aiken st
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
You wouldn’t have heard them on the AM or FM dial, but amateur radio operators in Indianapolis heard them loud and clear. Indianapolis police officers were heard on the 2-meter VHF amateur radio band using it for both personal and professional communications, littered with naughty words not allowed on the broadcast airwaves. The problem with this is that the cops didn’t have the amateur radio licenses necessary to use those bands. That’s why the Indy police department was motivated to take away their cops’ transceivers after getting complaints from local hams.
Of course, this situation begs the question of why the cops felt the need to have a second 2-way radio in the first place, given that police departments have their own set of frequencies set aside for just their use. Makes a person wonder just what, besides profanities, the cops were talking about on the 2-meter band that they didn’t want to talk about over normal police frequencies.
As it turns out the 2-meter band wasn’t such a good choice if privacy was their motivation. Hams tend to be pretty protective of the bands allocated for amateur radio, policing them pretty closely, generally on a 24-hour basis.
According to a local news report, “the FCC is letting Indianapolis police handle the issue internally,” even though apparently, “officer use of unauthorized frequencies goes back many years.” Should we be surprised at the double-standard in the treatment of flagrant unlicensed use of the airwaves? If the culprits had been plain old civilians making potty-mouthed broadcasts for “many years” without a license on the 2-meter band do you think the FCC would let them off the hook without a notice of apparent liability, nevermind a fine?
While I’ve been critical of the FCC’s policies for the licensing of broadcast stations and the accompanying enforcement measures, I do believe in equal treatment under the law. Seems as though having a badge means you can abuse the airwaves without a license, with the only punishment being that your chief will take your toys away.
I meant to comment on the Town Hall earlier, but then all of a sudden already a week passed. First, I want to say that I was glad to be able to attend, and thanks go to organizer Ken Davis who was nice enough to squeeze me in after it looked like their RSVP list was full.
It’s tough to organize such an event and try to be balanced and fair with regard to representation. To begin with, the task of discussing local journalism in Chicago while the two major daily papers are on the ropes is not so simple. If you’re looking to get out of the echo chamber you want to be sure to include voices critical of the mainstream journalism status quo, but at the same time you risk alienating a lot of receptive participants if you don’t also include folks from inside that mainstream. Of course, since many observers pin responsibility for the newspaper’s decline on the internet, you need to have some new media newsies there, too.
Faced with that challenge I think the organizers did a fine job, including both current newspaper reporters and columnists along with bloggers and critical voices. Somebody with an axe to grind can certainly complain about a particular person or institution not being included. But I’d challenge anyone to come up with better representation across the local journalism spectrum in Chicago… nevermind actualy getting them to show up.
Lasting some three hours, it would be difficult for me to effectively summarize the Town Hall in a readable way. Instead I’ll reflect on what stands out to me most one week later.
Without a doubt the friction between new media and old media was present and palpable throughout the event. I wouldn’t say that it ever got hostile, but a level of mutual suspicion could be sensed. The beef of the mainstream, primarily print, journalists echoed a frequent complaint which was summed in one word by Chicago news veteran John Callaway: “theft.” That was his answer to a question of how newspapers might achieve a level of success, audience and revenue online similar to that achieved by the Huffington Post.
At many times the contention that news websites and blogs still rely heavily on the work of the traditional press was brought up. Sometimes it was during a discussion of the negative effects of major newspapers going out of business, noting that such an occurrence would leave bloggers without something to comment on (and, presumably, steal). Other times it was expressed with more bitterness, accusing web-only enterprises of failing to produce much original content, therefore not showing promise as the new guard.
The feelings weren’t much warmer from the other side, as those running web-only news sites, like ChiTown Daily’s Geoff Dougherty cited how profiteering by big newspaper owners began squeezing the papers to death before online was serious competition. Dougherty also forced the issue of original content, given that ChiTown Daily pays both experienced professional journalists and new citizen journalists to do original reporting for the site.
Another strong current was the issue of making money online, with traditional journalists questioning if online ads, in particular, would ever be sufficient to sustain a fully online newspaper. That question met with two different answers. Some panelists, like Community Media Workshop’s Thom Clark and In These Times’ Salim Muwakkil, pointed out that making a profit at reporting news isn’t guaranteed by the first amendment and has contributed significantly to the current crisis. Other commenters from the audience argued that there’s plenty of money to be made with online ads. Sachin Agarwal, CEO of Dawdle.com, was there as an advertiser who buys ads on many Chicago-based websites. Brad Flora of the social news site Windy Citizen invited Agarwal and also spoke up in defense of the vitality of online advertising.
In the end my conclusion is that the tension isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if there’s a silver lining to the cloud of the current crisis it’s that it is forcing people to have the conversation not just about what the future of local journalism will be, but why it’s important in the first place, and what it should look like. Without rejecting the model of the daily commercial newspaper, at this moment it’s important to reflect critically on what features we wish to retain and what, perhaps, we can do without.
I forget who made the remark, but this line of thinking causes us to question why we have to stories about local government bundled with sudoku puzzles. Just because that’s the way the daily newspaper ended up doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be.
Of course there are bigger questions at stake, regarding the place of objectivity and so-called advocacy journalism; about who gets to be a reporter, and whether future reporters will be able to make a living wage doing journalism. And of course, we still have the issue of who determines what gets reported and how.
I can’t say that I’m ready to dance on the graves of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. For all of my criticism for how their owners have done business, and for the gaps present in their coverage of social and economic issues, they nevertheless contribute a great deal of valuable original reportage that would be immediately missed if they went out of business. Yet, these two papers cannot and should not be the only game in town. One of the major underlying problems is the extent to which we all are over reliant upon too few sources of news. And, yes, we probably would not be here if consolidation across media, encouraged by regulation and legislation, had not occurred on such a grand scale in the last quarter century.
The revolution in online news gathering really got off the ground almost ten years ago with the first Indymedia center covering the Battle in Seattle. The notion of uncensored user-contributed news, including photos, sound and video, was radical, forward-thinking and utterly pragmatic. So much so, that a decade on we take it for granted. I’d guess that most folks working online news sites and blogs are largely unaware of this lineage.
The same struggles that catalyzed independent and community media will continue to spur change in online journalism. Money is always an issue, but profit doesn’t have to be.
I left the Town Hall feeling unexpectedly stimulated and hopeful. Despite the overemphasis on making a profit online and the tensions between old media and new, I was heartened that such an open and frank discussion was happening in the first place. I doubt that the same broad mix of folks could have been brought together in the same way five or ten years ago. It’s a sign of both how severe the economic environment is, how much owners like Tribune have run their papers into the ground, and also how traditional journalism can ignore or minimize online efforts only at its own peril.
The venerable Free Radio Berkeley has a (relatively) new video demonstrating all the parts in the air chain of a micropower unlicensed radio station, fresh from their Oakland, CA shop:
How To Make a Radio Station from Free Radio on Vimeo.