FRB Frustrates the FCC

Despite the FCC’s stepped up enforcement actions against micro-broadcasters nation-wide and despite the FCC’s injunction that shut down Free Radio Berkeley, East Bay covert broadcasts have continued regular broadcasts for more than two months every Sunday night on 104.1 FM. Each broadcast has happened from a different location for security reasons.

Free Radio activists have also kept the struggle for democratic communications alive with two recent well publicized acts of civil disobedience after the FCC tried and failed to capture two activists in the Berkeley hills last August (see “Microradio Activists Dodge FCC Raid” by Cecelia B. Sapremia, Slingshot Autumn 1998).

The first action since the would-be captors missed their mark took place with at least a hundred close supporters surrounding the impromptu station broadcasting from a secret location. The public at large was notified of the broadcast by large posters resembling announcements for a prize fight. “Free Radio vs. the FCC–will the hometown microradio activists defeat the government in the fight for the airwaves?” A press conference was held at the nearby train station, with camera crews notified only minutes before the broadcast of the location of the action. Masked activists escorted the news crews to the broadcast location. The FCC knew exactly where the broadcast was coming from, having thousands of dollars of fancy equipment at their disposal. But, as the poster for the next action proclaimed, they were nothing but chicken.

Since the FCC did not grace the broadcasters with the honor of their presence, the activists decided to risk a little more. In September the Berkeley City Council was to hear an appeal filed by the California Broadcasters’ Association of the Berkeley Zoning Boards’ decision to grant Free Radio Berkeley a use permit for their radio antenna (now a point only in principle since FRB got shut down and moved out of that location altogether). A second action was planned for this debacle. The activists broadcasted on the steps of Berkeley City Hall to a crowd of 80 that night, as well as at least 10 different print and television outlets. Broadcasters dressed up as Uncle Sam, the Statue of Liberty, and an FCC agent wearing a chicken mask. Community leaders, former FRB listeners, and other malcontents spoke on the air and to the crowd, including some former FRB programmers who deliberately violated the court injunction (see “No Freedom Without Communication,” by P.B. Floyd, Autumn 1998). As with the first rally, the FCC was nowhere to be seen.

It is interesting, but not so surprising, that the FCC is quite willing to storm into the hills with University of California police to capture two broadcasters, but will not face crowds of microradio supporters willing to risk arrest and commit civil disobedience. It seems that the FCC was not willing to uphold their pro-corporate, media monopoly “laws” in the face of curious newspaper reporters, television cameras, and scores of free radio supporters. It could be that the FCC realizes how wrong they are to keep communities from having a voice on the public airwaves, and a public enforcement in Berkeley would only rally more people to the side of freedom. Because the FCC seems unwilling to bust public actions, radio activists still have opportunities to seize the airwaves.

The broadcasters had prepared a “Notice of Actual Liability” document to serve the FCC in case they decided to show up. It was modeled after the “Notice of Apparent Liability” the FCC left under a rock at the site of the hill broadcast August 2nd. The broadcaster’s document charged the FCC with, among other things, having a vested interest in the broadcasting business (according to the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC cannot have any members who are also serving broadcasting interests–FCC Chairman William Kennard is a former National Association of Broadcasters lawyer).

Even more spectacular radio civil disobedience actions may be in progress by the time you read this article. Stay Tuned! For info or to get involved, call 510 587-3388.