Pirates taking broadcast battle to FCC

Friday, October 2, 1998

In the life of a pirate radio operator, secrecy is often paramount in avoiding the attention and action of the Federal Communications Commission. But on Monday, about 200 microbroadcasters plan to march to the steps of the FCC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and fire up a portable transmitter.

The microbroadcasters — some call them pirates because they operate unlicensed, low-power radio — say they have a First Amendment to the airwaves. They claim the FCC, the government agency that regulates radio broadcasts, has created a licensing program that favors corporations and the wealthy.

Calling their event “the first national mobilization for free radio,” organizers of the protest plan to hold workshops and discussion sessions on Sunday and Monday, capping the two days with the defiant broadcast.

In recent years, low-power radio stations have sprung up across the country in part to offer communities more variety in their radio programming. But because the stations are not licensed, the FCC has been closing them down.

Protest organizer Pete tri Dish, a 28-year-old carpenter from Philadelphia formerly of Radio Mutiny, said the strength of the micropower movement is its diversity.

“There’s going to be a Promise Keeper, a former Black Panther, a school teacher, public health workers, kids … it really runs the gamut,” Dish told freedomforum.org “Of all the issues I’ve seen come and go, this is the one with people of all different stripes coming together … willing to stick their necks out to do something about it.”

The two-day workshop begins Sunday at the Latin American Youth Center with microbroadcasters showing others how to start their own stations.

At 9 a.m. Monday, The Freedom Forum will sponsor “Broadcast Outlaws: The high-voltage debate over low-watt radio.” Panelists include David Leder of KIND Radio in San Marcos, Texas; safe-sex expert Diane Fleming, who broadcasts as “The Condom Lady”; Jesse Walker of the Competitive Enterprise Institute; and Wayne Coy, a D.C.-based communications attorney who supports current FCC polices.

At 10:30 a.m., the microbroadcasters plan to rally and broadcast first at FCC headquarters and then at the offices of the National Association of Broadcasters. The protesters are then to meet with members of Congress and hold a news conference.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said the agency would not comment about the protest.

A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents some 12,000 licensed radio stations, praised the broadcasters for demonstrating but said the federal licensing scheme prevents chaos on the airwaves.

“It’s a free country,” John Earnhardt of NAB said “Freedom of speech, we’re all for it. That’s how people express themselves. But our stand on pirates is clear: They are not a good thing because they interfere with other stations and, in some cases, plane navigation.”