By Riffraff the Radio Rat

    Free Radio Gainesville began as an idea generated by an anarchist affinity group-a small political work group based on ties of friendship and community-that got organized in 1996. Some of us have lived in Gainesville almost all of our lives, and others are transplants, but we've been involved with each other through the youth culture/counterculture scene here for about five years now. Our goals for the station are basically to attack corporate media and provide a grassroots alternative, to try to get some of our "radical" ideas out into the community in order to stir up action and positive change in our town, and to have fun by being creative with a medium (radio) that has a lot of potential that we see being wasted by corporate culture with its bottom line agenda and narrow scope. Because of its small scale and D.I.Y. basis, unlicensed micro-powered radio has the potential to fill in all kinds of gaps that exist in the range of styles or perspectives available from current legally licensed broadcasters. "Pirate" stations can fill in the many niches between the tightly-focused market-based approach of corporate radio and the wide-open hodge-podge of licensed non-profit community radio. The micropower radio movement is growing exponentially at this point, and there are many issues of legality, ethics, money and the lack thereof, and basic orientation and goals of the movement as a whole that current microbroadcasters are struggling with. One of the biggest issues is the question of how micropowered FM stations can fit into the communities in which they are based. This question has legal and economic sides that I will not go into here. For this article I thought I would focus more on the political and organizational issues that we here at FRG are working on. I thought I'd tell MRR's readers a little bit about our community and how we see ourselves and our project in relation to it, in the hope that it will provide other broadcasters and potential broadcasters with some food for thought about the sort of basic existential questions like "What is free radio and how the hell are we gonna do it?"

Our radio station was conceived of as a political and cultural project. In Gainesville we are fortunate to have a community which has a long history of radical politics, and a long memory about the history of the various struggles that have gone on, stretching back to the Civil Rights era. Because of this radical history and the strength of the counterculture that developed here in the 60's and 70's, there are many opportunities in this town for radical-minded rebel youth to work with and learn from older activists, and we have all benefited from this. Gainesville also has a vibrant youth culture that is centered around a pretty independent-minded music scene, from D.I.Y. punk and hardcore to indie rock to funk to underground DJ's that spin a variety of styles in the local clubs. Some of our members who grew up in this scene just took the ball and ran with it, and have been agitating and fuckin' shit up since they were in high school.

The affinity group that started Free Radio Gainesville got organized in order to make a specifically anarchist contribution to the local scene. We wanted to create programs and actions that would complement other local grassroots projects while reflecting our commitment to anarchism and anti-authoritarianism. We had all been involved in activism through other groups, some of them more traditional "left-wing" groups, such as feminist and student organizations, and others more anarchistic in nature, such as Food Not Bombs. Our little posse met through the natural process of networking that goes on in small-town community organizing. Initially we all started hanging out as "just friends," but through our participation in the process of policy-building and organizing at the local radical infoshop, the Civic Media Center, we became increasingly aware of our shared commitment to certain political ideas-radical democracy, decentralized organization, open and inclusive group process.

We first got together as our own separate group to study anarchist history and share ideas about the theory and practice of anarchism-things like direct action, consensus decision-making, and non-hierarchical group structures. We did so partly out of disenchantment with some of the goals and tactics of other local Left groups (pushing for legislative action, voting drives, etc.) and partly out of a strong desire to participate in what we all saw as a fast-growing revitalization of anarchy in North America. All of us were plugged into the anarchist/anti-authoritarian scene through our own personal interests, most of which were related to the counterculture youth scene. We were reading the literature, from Profane Existence to the dozens of Riot Grrl zines that exploded onto the scene in the early nineties; we were doing the work, from Food Not Bombs to Youth Liberation classes and workshops; we were studying the theory, from Goldman and Kropotkin to Chomsky and Bookchin; and we were learning the history, from the medieval Free Spirit to the Paris Commune to the Industrial Workers of the World to Paris 1968 to Active Resistance 1996. The original study group idea never really got off the ground, but eventually it developed into a more action-oriented project. Although the radio station has been our longest and most involved effort, we have also done street theater and organized solidarity events for the EZLN (the Zapatistas).

Folks who create free radio stations usually do it in one of two basic formats: as the platform for an individual or a small group's narrowly focused agenda (like WTRA and Black Liberation Radio in the early days of the micropower movement), or as a community resource that puts just about anyone on the air (like the early days of Free Radio Berkeley's 24/7 broadcasts). It seems that either of these approaches can involve a station in some pretty confusing free speech struggles-whose station is it, and who has the right to say what does or doesn't get on the air on a "free" broadcast frequency? Things can get especially hairy when one person or a couple of people own the equipment and the space it's set up in and are trying to make it available to others for use. At Free Radio Gainesville we are trying to strike a balance between the two extremes of a personal or narrowly focused set of programming and a wide-open, chaotic and contradictory free speech zone. We run our station as a democratic collective and have come up with some basic notions of what we as a group want to see get put out over the airwaves in our name. We do this for practical as well as philosophical reasons. We are all poor and none of us have the resources to individually "own" the equipment, and even as a collective the potential legal expenses are daunting.

On the philosophical side, all of our activity has tended to reflect what I think can be seen as the central ideal that the affinity group members all share: to have real freedom, we must have a dialectic, a creative merger or dialogue, between the free and open desires of the individual, and the material and spiritual needs of the community. This is where I think our group, and others like it, part ways with both the counterculture and the traditional Marxist Left. To me this is what anarchism is all about-smashing through the brainfences that traditional ways of thinking trap us in: Either/Or, Black/White, and so on-and trying to engage in practices that bypass or resolve the contradictions that keep us all confused and alienated from each other within our daily lives. We see this problem cropping up over and over again in society as a whole, and we struggle with it in our own personal lives and in the process of creating organizations and doing political work. The question is, how can we recognize differences, honor them, and then get beyond them to find common points that will allow us to get together and do work that produces benefits for us all? How can we reconcile the deep individual desire for total freedom that anarchism is based on with the practical reality that humans are social critters and who have to work together to survive?

This type of problem comes up over and over again in political struggles. I'll use some Gainesville issues as an example. The city council tries to sell the us citizens a lovely array of "development" schemes to bring "jobs" and "economic growth," to our humble burg, but they always seem to end up being the same old sweetheart deals for local developers and big-business corporate franchises who provide us with more shitwork for less pay and the same old Korporate Amerika strip malls, facades, and dangerous, polluting industry. Meanwhile the little mom-n-pop businesses that provide unique local culture and a semi-autonomous local economy go down the drain from the competition. "Downtown redevelopment" translates into creating safe zones for the local Richie Riches and their "vision" for our town. This means moves like trying to push the poor folks and "houseless" people out by threatening the shelters and the churches that provide services; putting police and economic pressure on the area's only punk rock bar to try to force it out of the heart of downtown, where it currently thrives and festers like a dirty little thorn of rebellion in the side of their oh-so-carefully planned corporate Kookie Kutter Kommunity; trying to force all the local papers to buy the same expensive, butt-ugly metal distribution boxes so that the independent papers' colorful old D.I.Y. boxes won't hurt their precious eyes; and selectively enforcing a lame little city ordinance that makes it a crime for activists, homeless people, and punk kids to hang flyers on city utility poles while Coca-Cola plasters those same poles with giant Olympic hype posters.

When you step outside of the confines of political debate that the corporate machine presents, it is easy to see how there could be many different kinds of solutions to the problems that a community faces, and we want to promote our particular vision of cooperative, collectively-created solutions that are based on real democracy. For example, if a neighborhood in town is having social and economic problems, let the people who live there come together to come up with ideas about how to solve them, and then vote on the proposals that they themselves come up with. Let them bring in outside "experts" for advice and reach out to others for material aid if they freely choose to do so. In the corporate capitalist mentality that rules now, there is only one way to come up with "solutions"-top-down government or business power. Their solution to the problem of "neighborhood decay": opening up "new markets" for big-money investors (strip malls, yuppy apartment complexes) and providing more fodder for the Prison Industrial Complex with more cops and harsher laws. If an idea does not somehow generate more power and more profit for a privileged minority, it just isn't worth considering. However, it seems to me that the success of micro-powered radio at the grassroots level is just one real-life example that exposes what a lie that kind of thinking is.

In December of 1997 the established FRG collective decided to formally draft policy pertaining to decision-making and the addition of new collective members and new broadcast programming. We had been broadcasting since July with minimal publicity in order to build up our shoddy equipment and try to work the bugs out. After having a five-hour intensive meeting and brain-storming session, we came up with bare-bones written policies and some basic ideas about how to go more public with our station and reach out to other elements of the community at large. We also drafted and published a manifesto explaining the goals and intent of the project to the public. It has always been very important to us that we make it clear to other folks here in town what our reason for doing radio is-we are not simply opening up a community free-speech zone where all points of view get equal time. We have a mission to put certain perspectives on the air, to create a zone of free speech for certain marginalized or excluded voices that we as a group see as valuable and needing to be heard, and our responsibility to our community lies in living up to that goal. There is no room on our frequency, to use an extreme example, for the local KKK. Their interests run directly counter to the kind of political and economic empowerment we hope to promote. Let them find their own methods of outreach, and if they do, then let the people decide if they want to pay attention. To use an example from our day-to-day practice, the only time any word from the local New York Times syndicate newspaper gets on the air is when the Radical News Hour reader uses it as fodder for attacking piss-yellow corporate journalism, comparing and contrasting it with coverage of the same issue from alternative press sources.

To build our organization and expand our programming, we decided to stick to grassroots methods of outreach: speaking out about Free Radio Gainesville at social gatherings and political events, publishing our manifesto and recruiting ads in the local radical paper, on-air requests for feedback and programming ideas, and personally recruiting individuals that we encountered on the street, in meetings, or at work. We ultimately intend on raising money the traditional grassroots way: music benefits, t-shirts, bumper-stickers, and soliciting funds from moneyed liberals who support our cause. We constantly request from our listeners music and equipment donations. We especially encourage music from local artists so that we can better promote our unique cultural scene. So far we have agreed not to accept money from anyone in exchange for advertisement. Instead it is our hope to establish barter relations (relations based on mutual assistance) with locally owned music stores, clubs and Non Governmental organizations.

Prospective members are asked to write a proposal detailing their program idea and how they think it might compliment our mission. They are then given a four week trial slot during which time the existing collective listens in. The trial member is encouraged to attend meetings to better get acquainted with FRG members and to receive feed back on their program. At the end of this trial period the prospective member is invited into the collective as a full member or rejected if the group does not have a solid consensus that their program complements the mission of Free Radio Gainesville. For example, a DJ that persist in being misogynist, racist, homophobic, puts out sloppy, self-contradictory information, or refuses to respect and take care of the equipment or the space. Since these policy decisions were formalized we have added one new full member and are trying out three more.

The addition of new members to FRG was initially based on affinity. We formed the initial collective by pooling our money and resources on the principle of "From each according to his/her ability, to the project according to its needs." We began building the group in size and diversity by inviting comrades of ours from other groups and friends from our immediate scene or community to join the collective and do programs. Among our first new recruits were Food Not Bombs activists and a woman who was FRG's number one listener and supporter in our early experimental broadcast days. But we knew that in order to expand our on-air time, broaden the scope of information that we put out , and serve more parts of the community, we would need to take on programmers from outside our own immediate circle of friends and activists. In our case, that meant people from outside the mostly white, mostly middle-class dropout culture. The greatest obstacle we face being in a small, Old South town, which is also a university town, is the gap between the white counterculture street scene and the black cultural scene and street scene. The social/political breakdown of the original collective is like this: not all of us are white, most of us are queer, more of us are male than female, almost all of us come from middle-class backgrounds, some of us are on and off the street, all of us work shit jobs to get by, a couple of us have college degrees, most of us are somewhere in our twenties agewise. The programming that we were doing on the station did and still does reflect this reality, but by slowly bringing in more people and more programming from different sub-communities, and being as conscious as we can of the complex dynamics that we turn loose within the group whenever we make changes, we have managed to maintain the radical mission of the station and add voices that definitely reflect a broader slice of the Gainesville community as a whole.