Radio Free Brattleboro Gets Tipped Off By U.S. Atty General’s Office

In what can only be described as a unique situation, U.S. Attorneys have contacted unlicensed Radio Free Brattleboro warning them that the FCC wants to take action to shut them down. This is unusual since it’s not typical for either the FCC or other federal officials to give such warning. Most of the time, when the FCC has reached the point that they are willing to use warrants and police force to shut down a station, they use the element of surprise to catch them in action and make sure they get the feds get the transmitter.

In response, the station’s volunteers drafted a letter with the aid of their local attorney asking the DoJ and the FCC to consider giving them a 10-watt license — which otherwise aren’t yet being issued — or expedite the licensing of another local community group which will do low-power community radio broadcasting.

I spoke with RFB volunteer Sara Longsmith this evening, and she speculated that the FCC and the DoJ would prefer to have RFB shut down quietly given the tremendous amount of community support the station has received, including over 3500 petition signatures from a community of only about 12,000 people. A big display of police force shutting down a valued community institution could very well be a public relations fiasco for both the FCC and the US Attorneys in Vermont.

My interview with Sara will be the feature on Friday’s mediageek radioshow, and I’ll try to get that program archived on the site very quickly.

Some more background on the RFB saga:

Radio Free Brattleboro had two run-ins with the FCC last year, after broadcasting mostly unharassed since 1998. In June an FCC agent first visited and intimidated a station DJ into letting him in, leaving behind a letter telling them to shut down or risk a fine.

The station decided to shut down after the first visit, but then went back on the air in August with a new strategy — to show overwhelming community support as their “authority to broadcast,” which the FCC had demanded they prove. Their proof would be signatures on a petition from the Brattleboro community (3500 of them as of January 2004!)

The FCC visited RFB again in September, but this time they wouldn’t let the agents in, asking to see a warrant. When the agents demanded to see RFB’s authority to broadcast, a station volunteer responded: “the people of Brattleboro had authorized us to do so.”

Following in the vein of the station’s successful community petition campaign, in December the Brattleboro Select Board — a Vermont City Council — passed a non-binding resolution of support for RFB. And now the station has garnered enough signatures to place a resolution in front of voters during the city’s upcoming town meeting day on March 2.

You can hear listen to the story of Radio Free Brattleboro as told by station volunteer Sara Longsmith on the Oct. 17, 2003 edition of the mediageek radioshow.






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