"They think freedom of speech is only for the rich"
On November 30, agents of the Federal Communications Commission broke into the studios of Free Radio Gainesville, Gainesvilles non-profit, non-commercial collectively-run radio station at 94.7 FM, and stole all their equipment. The FCC additionally levied a fine of $6,000 against the person renting the apartment the station broadcast from. What follows is the statement by Free Radio Gainesville in response to this raid:
Free Radio Gainesville was founded in June of 1997 and has operated for close to the past 18 months. Our mission has always been opening up the airwaves to the wealth of cultural and political diversity that exists in our community and working to construct a more informed citizenry as well as a more just, democratic, and equal society. One could tune in five nights a week and hear local, national, and international news not carried by the mainstream media, as well as a variety of music--hip hop, electronic, punk rock, country, acoustic, and experimental, among others. FRG operated as a non-profit, non-commercial collective, relying for support on the talent, time, and resources of the Gainesville community. As we have given local bands, DJs, poets, activists, and others a voice on the airwaves, they in turn supported us with much appreciated benefits and support work. On November 30, 1998, however, FRG was shut down. Agents representing the Federal Communications Commission, accompanied by federal marshals, raided our studios, confiscating more than $1500 worth of equipment. One week later, the FCC levied a $6000 fine against the station.
One primary purpose of the First Amendment was to ensure the people's access to the media and the media's right to free expression without government interference. If people are denied information and opinions relevant to the issues, then the people are not being allowed a well balanced, well thought out decision. A robust democracy, then, requires broad channels of discussion and debate on all of society's issues and concerns. It requires a media system open and free to the widest possible range of views.
The First Amendment was intended to prevent licensing of the media and schemes to restrict speech rights to the wealthy few. One underlying goal of the First Amendment is to prevent the creation of an "establishment" media. The First Amendment belongs to everybody. It's called free speech. As the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, the First Amendment calls for "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources." And again, in another case, "It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of broadcasters, which is paramount. That right may not constitutionally abridged by either Congress or the FCC."
We at FRG believe that the government agency designated to oversee radio broadcast, the FCC, has unfortunately failed in its obligations to protect the First Amendment and has thus disserved the people of the United States.
The FCC was created by the Communications Act of 1934, passed by Congress at the behest of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). This Act set up the current licensing scheme for radio stations and effectively transformed radio from what had been a diverse medium of communications into one controlled by the emerging broadcast corporations. Since 1934, these corporations have steadily diluted radio into merely a commercial medium, designed to deliver consumers to advertisers, rather than fulfill the informative functions necessary to the maintenance of a democratic society.
1978 brought yet another drastic change in FCC policy, one which further restricted access to the radio airwaves. In that year, under pressure from the corporation for Public Broadcasting, who wished to gain the lion's share of underwriting for public radio, the FCC prohibited any radio station from broadcasting at levels below 100 watts of power. This decision to eliminate stations under 100 watts was intended to professionalize non-commercial broadcasting by forcing small stations to either go off the air or increase in power and budget. The reality, however, is that non-commercial community stations are now non-existent as even NPR has been forced to seek commercial support and transfer decision making to a few national offices. Since 1978, not a single micropower station has been granted a license and only two have been allowed license waivers. Free speech, therefore, has been silenced on the radio or is only afforded to the wealthy.
The challenges to the prohibitions against micropower radio began in 1989
as Mbanna Kantako's Black Liberation Radio went on the air in Illinois and has gained momentum ever since. Currently, the micropower radio movement has reached a point where there are probably 1,000 stations on the air. And it has grown in part due to the continued consolidation of commercial control of the airwaves, resulting from the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This Act raised the cap on stations an owner could have in a single market to eight. The resulting mass mergers mean that now in each of the 50 largest markets, three firms control 50% of radio revenue and programming and in 23 of those 50, three corporations control more than 80% of the market. The costs to own a station in these circumstances put it well out of reach for the average citizen. Basic start-up costs for a new station range between $100,000-250,000. The cost of buying an existing station falls between $2 and 4 million. Thus, in a nation of 260 million people, one of the most democratic and accessible mediums available to the public is controlled by a mere 4,500 or so individuals.
We at FRG believe that the FCC regulations under which we have been shut down and prevented from providing a non-profit, non-commercial community service are in direct violation of the Constitution upon which this nation was founded. The 1978 regulations which eliminated microbroadcasting serve as prior restraint of free speech, banning a broad spectrum of communication with no consideration of the value or necessity of that communication. Communities interested in establishing locally based radio stations are thrown into a bureaucratic Catch-22: You must apply for a license to broadcast, but no license exists for the type of broadcasting you wish to do. Those who have defied this state of affairs have been raided (over 300 stations have been shut down in the past 14 months), fined, and threatened with imprisonment-all for the crime of wishing to service an unmet need in their communities. It has reached a point now where even U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilkin, in the case against Free Radio Berkeley, was forced to acknowledge that the FCC's current regulations merit serious scrutiny on First Amendment grounds.
Such prior restraint flies in the face of the First Amendment and we intend to push for a change in the FCC's policies. The FCC is currently considering three proposals which would change the rules and allow for some sort of microbroadcast opportunities. We at FRG urge the public to contact FCC Chair William Kennard and let him know that you support FRG and demand that microbroadcasters be allowed the right to exist. (1-888-CALL-FCC)
Free Radio Gainesville has been shut down, but our voices will not be silenced. We intend to continue to fight for the First Amendment privileges of all Americans and to fight for the rights of communities to have broadcast stations which serve the needs of their communities, rather than the demands of the market.
On Wednesday, January 13, there will be a benefit show at the Covered Dish, featuring bands Reina Aveja, Rumble Seat, and Crash Pad. On January 20, at the Civic Media Center, the Free Radio Gainesville collective will hold a teach-in at which the public can come learn more about FRG and the micropower movement, how to start their own station, and the legal aspects of microbroadcasting as well as participate in petitioning and letter-writing campaigns to the FCC and members of Congress.
Free Radio Gainesville Teach-In January 20
The Free Radio Gainesville Collective and the Civic Media Center will present a Teach-in on Micropowered Radio and the proposed FCC rule changes that may soon re-legalize low-powered FM radio. It will be held Wednesday, January 20 at 8 p.m. at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave. (373-0010.)
Free Radio Gainesville says, "We invite all members of the Gainesville community to come out and learn about the history of the struggle for democracy and free speech on the airwaves. Find out how community-based, non-profit micro-radio broadcasting can add to the diversity, cultural expression, and democratic participation in communities at the grassroots level.
"Help Free Radio Gainesville and the Micro-Powered Radio Movement fight against corporate greed and win back the people's right to use a free and abundant natural resource-the broadcast spectrum."
Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is considering a series of possible rule changes that would make some form of low-powered FM broadcast legal again for the first time since 1978.
Event organizers will have petitions and letters on hand for people to sign, and phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses of officials who can be contacted to express support for legalization of micro-powered radio.
Radical Cheerleaders' Free Radio cheer
We, the people, have something to say
Rotten things are going on in the USA
Those with money and power, their numbers are few
But with their false propaganda they're opposing you.
Their idea of democracy, it comes with a hitch
They think that freedom of speech is only for the rich.
If we rose up, then their heroes would fall
Like their Newt Gingrinches and their Rush Limbaughs.
94.7 is the radio wave
that brings power to the people and it's trying to save
your freedom, your justice, your sanity
We've got to stand up to the FCC.
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