Free Radio Gainesville 94.7 stays on the air defying FCC orders
On June 3 Free Radio Gainesville 94.7 FM received a visit from two agents of the Federal Communications Commission. Our station received written and verbal orders to cease broadcasting immediately or face penalties of up to $11,000 and up to 1 year imprisonment. FRG was founded as a political project and from the beginning we knew what we were doing was illegal.
Prior to 1980 there was at least the possibility of obtaining a class D 10 watt license to run a micro-powered radio station. That classification was removed by the FCC after ten years of intensive lobbying by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which sought to establish regional flagship NPR stations and did not want the 10 watt stations in their way. By seizing unused frequencies on the FM dial our movement to free the airwaves for low watt grassroots stations has grown to more than a thousand stations across the country, with more taking to the air every day. As a result of this growing movement, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), made up of commercial stations, has ordered its members to actively seek out and report all "pirate" radio activity in their respective areas. Stations such as WKTK have been instructed to report to the FCC the existence of stations like Free Radio Gainesville. In all likelihood it was this order that led the FCC to FRG.
Beyond simple warnings, micro-radio stations such as 87X in Tampa and Radio Mutiny in Philadelphia have had their property confiscated. In Decatur, Illinois Napoleon Williams and Mildred Jones, operators of Black Liberation Radio, an overtly political micro-radio station, became immediate targets for police harassment when they "began to expose how African-Americans in Macon county were being herded through the judicial system like slaves through a plantation-era auction. ...Police, armed with a search warrant and drawn guns, invaded the couples home...[and] confiscated every bit of broadcasting equipment." (Covert Action Quarterly, fall 97). The authorities have gone so far as to seize their daughters citing them as unfit parents. This aggression against micro-broadcasters is taking place because people are intentionally defying the federal government to make the political point that the current regulations (minimum licensing fees and start-up costs of $50-60 thousand) so limit access to the airwaves that it infringes on our First Amendment right of free speech.
Because of the challenges made to corporate/state interest during the 1960's and 1970's by the anti-war movement, feminists, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, environmentalists, gays and lesbians and others, imperial ideologues recognized that a real threat existed at home. Media began to be seen by the right as a major battleground to be contested and won in order to re-colonize the minds of the domestic population and thereby roll back the gains made by these popular movements. Money was dedicated to finance and drive ideological institutions which could supply pundits to all media, particularly National Public Radio (NPR). Public radio was to be taken over and privatized while micro-radio stations were to be thrown on the dustbin of history. It is in response to this political context that the micro-radio movement emerged. Free Radio Gainesville has always understood our actions to be a form of civil disobedience to contribute to the national micro-radio movement's goal of gaining affordable access to the airwaves for those voices silenced by the current corporate monopolization of radio. Micro-radio broadcasters are not the only stations feeling the heat.
Big business controls the airwaves to sell goods and disseminate corporate propaganda. Just as the State's responsibility to its people's health and security in obtaining the basic necessities of life are being undermined and usurped by corporate interest (through the gutting and privatization of welfare) so too have the airwaves fallen prey to the corporate grab. All across the country commercial and public radio stations are being confronted with the free market ultimatum: rake in profit or die.
The result for commercial stations has been a forced abandonment of any programming not maximally profitable for their owners, followed by a restructuring in order to appeal to those demographics which possess the greatest purchasing power. The best example of "free" market forces effecting a deterioration in the quality of programming on the air in Gainesville has been the recent demise of 97 X, arguably the best commercial station Gainesville had. 97X was purchased by Entercom Inc. a Washington state-based corporation which already owns WKTK-FM in Gainesville and over 37 other stations.
"Free" market forces have also led the federal government to dramatically reduce public radio funding. The impact has been staff lay-offs, reduction in news and public affairs programming, an increase in on-air underwriting spots and for some, the closing of stations. David Barsamian, director of Alternative Radio explains, "It is not that public radio...is radical. It is what they represent. They are outside of corporate control and as a result have potential for independence. Public space in all spheres is to be eliminated. Any alternative model to the market one has to go. So the right-wing strategy is to starve them for morsels, attack them politically, and drive them into the market. The result has been largely successful."
The global trend impacting radio is increased centralization of ownership and the privatization of all public space and assets. As it turns out the free market is only free for the already filthy rich. Already for-profit corporations control 85% of US radio stations, while most of the others are owned by universities and state-wide broadcasting companies. It doesn't seem that far fetched to argue that in the near future the only thing a listener will hear on the radio will be corporate controlled culture, advertisements for corporate goods, and corporate lies to mobilize support for the bottom line agenda of making money for the owners. If we don't articulate a viable strategy to reclaim our right to speak and be heard on the airwaves and instead allow for a complete monopolization of radio by corporate interest, then all movements for social justice will suffer incredible setbacks. FRG firmly believes that alternative media institution building must be seen as a main priority for the left, if what we want to see is the development of a democratic opposition to the emerging corporate fascism.
Since we do not possess the vast resources of the National Association for Broadcasting or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with which to influence congressional decisions and regulatory re-structuring, what course should we take in order to regain our right to the airwaves that was stolen from us by big business? History teaches us that the Bill of Rights has never been guaranteed or protected by the federal government. Rather it is people, through collective action who articulate and then defend their rights through vigilance and continued unity.
With this understood it is easy to see why we continue to lose in the courts. It is not because our arguments have been poorly substantiated (in a system controlled by the people where money could not purchase victories, we would have won long ago) but because what we seek is truly radical. As genuine grassroots stations take to the air more people will begin to make the transition from powerless, though entertained, spectator to active participant in dialogue concerning the struggles of everyday life. This will diminish the effectiveness of corporate propaganda, a cornerstone of their power. Already our movement has amassed enough support to have forced the FCC to reconsider its prohibition on licenses for micro-powered radio stations. Our continued growth may even force a token concession in the near future, such as the issuance of licenses for stations of 1 watt or less. However, if we are to achieve the radical overhaul that we believe is necessary to satisfy the real cultural and informational needs of our communities then we must grow fifty fold and in the process we must be prepared to make personal sacrifices. I say this because it is clear that as our movement grows so too will the level of repression from the federal government. Within the last 18 months the FCC has busted 73 stations. In addition, we are seeing a concerted effort to take off the air the most overtly political stations, those stations attempting to utilize radio as a tool for community organizing including Free Radio Berkeley, Steal this Radio (NYC), Black Liberation Radio (Decatur, IL), San Francisco Liberation Radio, Radio Mutiny (Philadelphia.)
In compliance with our overall political mission, Free Radio Gainesville has collectively decided that the legal risk we take pales in comparison to the good we may accomplish for our community and the movement by civilly disobeying the government and remaining on the air. Our vision is for Micro-radio to become a tool that offers both a viable alternative structure (collectively run, worker-owned) to corporate radio while at the same time seeking to inform, activate and agitate our community towards constructing a more cooperative, peaceful and egalitarian world.
We will continue to promote the D.I.Y., do it yourself ethic, through broadcast of locally produced music, poetry and Public Service Announcements of upcoming cultural events featuring local artists. In the place of corporate programming that can be heard anywhere in the USA, FRG wishes to share with the listener the wealth of cultural diversity which exists in our community, and in so doing create amongst our listeners a sense of uniqueness and identity.
Instead of short sound-bite news concerning the daily affairs of politicians, celebrities, and rich people, Free Radio Gainesville news and talk programs take a definitively different approach. First and foremost, we make no pretense at objectivity. In fact objectivity to us is a myth. Instead, we act as advocates of political and economic endeavors that embody the principles we wish to see take hold. We strive to promote active citizenship by bringing to our listeners local, national and international news about and by grassroots political organizations, campaigns, and movements which are fighting to overcome capitalism, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and ageism. From our perspective it is the common person engaged in struggle, not corporate leaders and politicians, who are makers of history and therefore newsworthy.
We must reach out to our community with the pride and dignity that accompanies all collective acts of resistance to institutional injustice. We must remain committed to serving the real needs of our community, as we understand it, with cultural and political programming not being satisfied by the corporate owned media. We must continue to make available to marginality and silenced voices the opportunity to join the FRG collective and be heard in a self-produced format. We're working hard to get the word out, so that more people become aware of the existence of their genuine grassroots community radio station. Finally, we seek to enable others, through skill sharing, to start their own stations.
Free Radio Gainesville
94.7 FM Schedule
5-6pm: "Local Music Show" - one hour showcasing Gainesville's great music scene with Hyper X
6-6:30pm: "Making Contact" - a syndicated half-hour news show
6:30-8pm: "Night & Day with Hyper X" - Folk, acoustic, insurgent country and power pop.
8-9pm: "All Things Not Considered" - an hour of local, national and international news of people's struggles against social injustice w/Ernesto
9-10pm: "Sing It Sista!" - women's voices through poetry and music w/Sorg.
10-Midnight: "Midnight Expressions" - hip-hop with Blaq DJ and Billy the Kid.
7-9pm: "Cup o' Joe with Que" - music, conversations and interviews with folks from good ol' Gainesville. It's like having a cup of coffee with your host Que.
9-11pm: Audio Buffet
11-Midnight: "Dirty Dave's Dumpster Obsession" - punk rock silliness and local scene stuff.
Midnight-1am: "Metal Marv's Midnight Moronics" - pure metal mania!
6-7pm: "All Things Not Considered" - an hour of local, national and international news of people's struggles against social injustice brought to you by Emesto.
7-8pm: "Skip's Music Hour of Technical Difficulties" - an eclectic mix of music and sounds.
8-9pm: "The ABC's of Vinyl" - picks from Jessica's record collection each week beginning with a different letter of the alphabet.
9-10pm: "Community Collective" - local and regional art & events & music mix
10-11pm: "Blues, Jazz & Funk w/ Alvarez" - just what it says; she's rockin!
1 l-12 midnight: "Nomadic Broadcast Network" - spoken word with local poets in all its various and sundry forms w/ El Destructo.
5-6: "Mozambique" - Pan-African music including reggae, Latin music, rhythms and beats and much more with Alan.
6-7: "Class War Radio" - Labor news and music with a wobbly slant. It's back and ready to smash the state!
7-8pm: "Vegan Gaia" - pure vegetarian diet for a healthy planet.
8-10pm "Urgent Divergence" - S-squared presents subculture shock radio with regular offerings of international and experimental music and interviews with local innovators, activists and eccentrics.
10-11pm: "Lost and Found" - lost, forgotten and obscure tunes from the 50s and 60s.
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