Free Radio Berkeley’s Radio Summer Camp — It’s Not About Reforming the FCC

Wired News reports on FRB and Stephen Dunifer’s Radio Summer Camp, which gives intensive training in building a station, putting it on air, and dealing with the authorities.

I’m a little surprised that one alum of the camp went on record with an apparently real name and a geographically identifying station name, talking about her unlicensed station. One would figure that such national press attention (even if it’s geek press) is more likely to put a station on the FCC’s enforcement radar.

Some stations, like Free Radio Berkeley in its day, intend to and are ready to face the FCC in a legal challenge, but this article makes no mention of whether or not the summer camp alum has any such plan.

On the topic of challenging the FCC, there’s an interesting quote from Pete TriDish of the Prometheus Radio Project:

“Still, Pete Tridish, a recovering pirate and head of the low-power radio advocacy group Prometheus Radio Project, thinks pirate stations on their own won’t cause enough of a ripple in Washington. He is lobbying to have the FCC cough up more LPFM licenses, including in urban areas.

“Having tried it, I don’t think a strategy just of civil disobedience will work,” Tridish said. “The pirates’ ability to be civilly disobedient is out of proportion to the problem they are trying to change.”

I happen to agree with him on this point, but only the effect you want to have is forcing the FCC and Congress to allow more licensed low-power FM stations on the air — which, indeed, is the effort Pete is actively involved in.

However, there’s more to free radio than lobbying for licenses and federal recognition.

Putting a transmitter on the air is not just an act of civil disobedience, but it is also an act of protest against the entire unfairly slanted system of broadcast regulation. It is an act of seizing back the airwaves in the name of the people, creating a temporary autonomous zone of the ether.

The act of broadcasting without governmental approval is signficant in and of itself, regardless of the effect that action has on authorities. It says to the FCC and their NAB cronies (or is it the other way around), “you can’t really stop us from speaking.” And, indeed, if enough transmitters go on the air, the FCC really can’t stop everyone (just like state troppers can’t stop all the speeders), and their grip on the radio airwaves is absolutely loosened.

Alone, pirate and free radio will not change many things that are wrong with broadcast regulation, the FCC, and our government. But as part of a larger movement for media freedom in service of real freedom, there is much power to be tapped.