It’s been a few years since the FCC reached consent decrees with CBS, Citadel and Clear Channel over illegal pay-for-play schemes, so you think that the major broadcasters would have learned their lesson. Apparently the warning didn’t get translated into Spanish. Yesterday the FCC released a new consent decree [PDF] with Spanish-language broadcaster Univision which requires the company to pay up a cool million dollars.
Category: The FCC
The mediageek radioshow airs live this Thursday, August 20 at 9 PM Central time on WNUR 89.3 FM in Evanston-Chicago, IL and online at www.wnur.org. If you have questions or comments for Tim Hwang send them to me by email – paul(at)mediageek(dot)net – or by twitter. The syndicated podcast will be posted Sunday night, or you can listen to the show on any of the thirteen other affiliates listed at the radioshow site.
Two days of contacting Sacramento rock station KRXQ’s advertisers regarding the station’s May 28 broadcast defaming and advocating abuse of transgendered children has gotten results. Chipotle Grill, Snapple and Sonic Drive-In have all pulled their ads from the station in response to the broadcast.
KRXQ general manager Jim Fox acknowledged to the Sacramento Bee that there have been some ad accounts canceled, but he wouldn’t say what the station would be doing in response. Well, one thing the station did was pull the list of advertisers that was on their website just a day ago. In this case, it’s Google Cache to the rescue (in case the cache expires, see the list after the jump).
I do have to thank Chipotle, Snapple and Sonic for doing the right thing by not ignoring this disgusting example of homophobia. But there are more advertisers who are still bankrolling this kind of defamation on KRXQ and elsewhere. And while these three companies decided to do the right thing, there is an economic element, too. My guess is that these three companies wisely realized that they would benefit by doing the right thing, earning or retaining more loyal customers. Perhaps more companies can be made to realize that continuing to fund hateful racist, misogynistic and homophobic programming on the radio will lose them customers and money.
While this broadcast of the Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning stands out as particularly egregious because the target for the abuse was children, how many of the same advertisers sponsor Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck, to name just a few? How uncomfortable can their advertisers be made?
It’s fundamentally a commercial system. But when we demonstrate that we won’t buy what the commercials are selling when they sponsor the continuation of on-air bigotry, maybe it won’t be so profitable.
You might have heard that the Supreme Court recently made a very narrow decision refusing to strike down the FCC’s enforcement of fleeting expletives on TV, such as when U2′s Bono dropped an f-bomb on a live Golden Globes broadcast a few years back. The justification always given for prohibiting so-called indecent words like “fuck” and “shit” on the broadcast airwaves between 6 AM and 10 PM is that we must protect the children from these horrible, brain-altering, growth-stunting, cancer-causing dirty words.
So what about the children who might have been listening to Sacramento, CA station KRXQ on May 28 when morning show hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States went on a hate-filled bigoted tirade against children who question their gender? Anyone, including children, tuning in would have heard that if States’ son ever put on high heels, he would beat him, saying
“If my son, God forbid, if my son put on a pair of high heels, I would probably hit him with one of my shoes. I would throw a shoe at him. Because you know what? Boys don’t wear high heels. And in my house, they definitely don’t wear high heels.”
States went on to advocate and encourage the humiliation and abuse that transgendered young people experience:
“You got a boy saying, ‘I wanna wear dresses.’ I’m going to look at him and go, ‘You know what? You’re a little idiot! You little dumbass! Look, you are a boy! Boys don’t wear dresses.’…
“You know, my favorite part about hearing these stories about the kids in high school, who the entire high school caters around, lets the boy wear the dress. I look forward to when they go out into society and society beats them down. And they end up in therapy.”
If you happened to be a young person or teenager hearing this, you might actually laugh, given the degree of uncertainty most young people feel about their sexuality and gender identity. It might also contribute to feeling justified in having disdain for other children who are gay or transgendered. And, unfortunately, it might also make you feel entitled to act violently towards someone whose sexual identity differs from yours, to hit a person with a shoe, or worse.
And what of the child who is questioning his or her own sexuality or gender who hears this? The message she or he will receive is that according to the show’s two most prominent hosts that child is a “freak” or “abnormal,” worthy of ridicule and deserving of violence. Given that suicide is a real pervasive problem amongst transgendered teens, this is a truly destructive message to broadcast at 9 AM in the morning.
In the reaction to this story I’ve read many people on social networks questioning how this station can keep its license. Of course the answer is simple: nothing legally qualifying as indecent was said on the program. Now, if Arnie States had said that he’d “throw a fucking shoe” at his son, or called transgendered children “fucking freaks,” well then a $15,000 fine would be on its way to KRXQ right now. That’s because that “fuck” would have destroyed the children listening in ways that the advocacy of violence and ridicule could never do, at least in the eyes of the FCC.
In the usual lame defense that comes from talentless, ignorant morning DJs, Arnie States said on air that “I know a lot of people don’t understand this…. That’s a joke.”
In the comment sections of Sacramento news sites the debate over this incident generally devolves into a shallow debate over supposed calls for free speech. Defenders of KRXQ and the hosts call detractors “politically correct” and lament that there’s no tolerance for free speech. Myself, I’m leery of having the FCC step in to regulate speech, also. Yet, the Commission already does step in to protect children from speech, but only if the speech is about fucking or shitting. Speech about beating up people who are different than you is A-OK, even if the people being rhetorically beat up are children.
The real issue is not free speech but the responsibility broadcasters have to local communities as the quid pro quo for having a monopoly over a particular frequency of the airwaves. Not everyone can have an FM station in Sacramento, and therefore KRXQ and Arnie States have a bully pulpit that still outclasses most people in Sac, even in this age of blogs, Twitter and podcasts. The real question is: is this the kind of broadcast the people of Sacramento would want if they actually had a choice or any control over what is broadcast over their airwaves?
As of now KRXQ only has to appeal to narrow demographic of white men 18-35 in order to satisfy its advertisers. So it panders to what it perceives that audience wants, regardless of what the rest of the community might want. It can continue to do this, and will suffer very little for these sorts of incidents because the station actually has nearly zero accountability to the people of Sacramento, due to the wholesale gutting of public service requirements for broadcast stations, combined with thirteen years of industry consolidation.
The likelihood of the FCC taking any sort of effective action against KRXQ for advocating violence against transgendered children is next to zero. I won’t be surprised if one or more commissioners chooses to speak out on the subject if the outrage reaches a louder volume. But don’t expect fines or any real jeopardy to the station’s license to be forthcoming. No, that jeopardy would require an assload of shits and fucks; nothing else will do.
However, because KRXQ panders to a particularly narrow audience in order to satisfy its advertisers, that’s where the station is most vulnerable, especially in this rotten ad climate. KRXQ boasts a large slate of both local and national advertisers, including such well known brands as Sonic Drive-Ins, Snapple, State Farm Insurance, Albertson’s, Carl’s Jr, Nissan, McDonalds and Wells Fargo. I wonder what they’re ad buyers would think about the station’s advocacy of violence towards children?
Sure, it’s not as effective as real local accountability. But hitting KRXQ and its owner Entercom in the pocketbook by haranguing their sponsors is at least one tactic that has a little promise. Another is to stop listening to KRXQ and all of Entercom’s stations in 23 different markets. And, then, let local advertisers know that you’re not listening, and why you’re not listening.
Such a boycott may or may not work, though I think it’s worth trying. However, this won’t be the last incident of this type so long as commercial radio continues its sprint to the bottom, both financially and ethically. The root cause of the promotion of this sort of ignorant, homophobic bigoted advocacy is greed, pure and simple, and the selective regulations that promote this kind of reductive, destructive greed.
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.
On this week’s show we led with Streetwise‘s financial troubles, listening to an excerpt of the Feb. 5 interview with Production and Marketing Director Ben Cook and Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Haney. Streetwise is receiving only about $60,000 of the typical $120,000 it gets in foundation support. We made note of a recent New York Times article that reported on other street newspapers doing comparatively well in this rotten economy.
Most of the rest of the show was dedicated to Time-Warner Cable announcement today (April 16) that it was going to hold off on “testing” bandwidth caps in Austin, San Antonio, Rochester, NY and Greensboro, NC. There’s lots of good reporting on the issue over at Ars Technica.
The podcast will be available this weekend.
I’m going to try and get back in the saddle with posting show notes for each week’s radioshow so that listeners can check out some of the news items and other relevant stuff that comes up during the show. Since the show is produced live, often featuring live guests, I’ll be treating these posts as dynamic documents. This means I’ll add links to stuff that comes up spontaneously during the show after the live broadcast is over, and maybe even after the podcast version is posted.
So, here’s the notes for the April 9, 2009 edition of the radioshow (now online):
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.
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.