By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
”Kill Radio needs to remember its roots, the IMC,“ counters Lisa Ferguson. ”That’s our legacy. We have to make a concerted effort -- it could easily slip into a cool, fun thing to do, and the entire political agenda could get lost.“
In an effort to keep the power balance uber-equal, and to create an open, anti-corporate atmosphere, Kill Radio uses the supposedly more democratic and often laborious process of consensus to make decisions. ”If you‘re trying to do a political project in the spirit of cooperation, you don’t want to introduce a voting system that‘s going to divide you,“ says Chris Burnett, the non-hierarchical collective’s de facto leader -- simply because he knows so damn much. Whenever (regularly) there are technical difficulties, Burnett is called in, and the late nights wear on his face. ”Well, I can build a computer, I can set up a server, I can plug things in and make them work,“ he apologizes. ”That makes a big difference when you‘re trying to get a radio station started.“
An ex--computer field engineer who ”grew up on English punk,“ Burnett is a proud anarchist who jokes about robbing banks to pay the collective’s bills and buying arms for the cause. After becoming a bargaining representative for the University Professional and Technical Employees Union while at UC San Diego, he spent nearly 13 years crisscrossing the state as an activistorganizer before heading to Seattle, where he worked with the first Independent a Media Center, launched for the World Trade Organization protests.
Last summer, Burnett fused his expertise in political organizing, radio production and computer technology at the L.A. IMC. After the Democrats left town, he, Ferguson and several others took over the IMC‘s dormant audio stream, and set out to create a radio station in the same community-based free spirit. The IMC donated much of Kill Radio’s secondhand equipment, plus $500 to help the station get started, and RegenerationTV, a worker-owned multimedia online production house (”boss-free since 1999“) -- where Burnett, Wicke and two other DJs work -- offered its DSL line on evenings and weekends. ”We met for two months before we went on the air. We worked on a mission statement, guidelines for how to get involved,“ says Burnett. About 15 people were at that first meeting. ”It was really exciting. It was like, ‘We can do this. We have the technology.’“
By piggybacking on RegenerationTV‘s server and using its DSL line (Regen is located just across the hall in more spacious, high-tech digs), Kill Radio circumvents serverbroadband costs, and its Net access is basically free. DJs kick in $10 each to cover the $300 rent, and a hat is sometimes passed at meetings to pay the local phone bill. The entire operating budget, then, of this ragtag collective hell-bent on bringing down the mainstream media establishment, is a whopping $330 per month. Plus, of course, money for beer.
To cover unforeseen expenses, Kill Radio scrapes by with money it brings in from fund-raisers. Last December, Ozomatli played in a word-of-mouth-only benefit at Mr. T’s Bowl under the pseudonym ”Chanclas del Diablo“ (”Sandals of the Devil“) and raised $1,000. ”People always ask, ‘How do you make your money?’ Well, we don‘t,“ says Burnett. ”As soon as profit enters into the equation, everything changes. I actually think that the minute money got involved, it would destroy the integrity of the station.“
”Perhaps we’re at the dawn of a whole new medium,“ says Peter Hart, media analyst for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (also co-host of the syndicated weekly radio show CounterSpin), ”and if that‘s the case, then the independents and people who are challenging the establishment might be pioneers in this new medium.“ Then: ”But if the history of radio is any grounds, they’ll be drowned out by commercial interests -- like what happened in the 1930s once the broadcast industry realized what was possible and what was at stake.“
Much is at stake. Until recently, the Internet has been a sort of last refuge for truly free, uncensored expression, but that vast unruly space is finally being mined by the broadcast establishment. There‘s a tangle of current copyright disputes involving nearly all the acronyms in this story (NAB, RIAA, DiMA, SAG, AFTRA, etc.). According to the 1998 Digital Millennial Copyright Act, Internet broadcasters must pay royalty fees, as terrestrial stations do, to the recording industry -- though it doesn’t specify how much. The Digital Media Association and the Recording Industry Association of America recently submitted proposed rates to the government, but the RIAA‘s were, predictably, more than 30 times higher. That these fees may be retroactive to 1998, coupled with a dispute led by AFTRA over actors’ fees for Internet radio ads, has instilled such fear in broadcasters that many are going offline altogether until the issues are resolved. Clear Channel Communications, which owns 1,180 of the 10,000 commercial radio stations in the United States, and 60 percent of the rock market, has pulled all of its Web radio operations -- 318 stations.
Congressional hearings are scheduled for July, but ”It‘s not gonna be in favor of Kill Radio, and it’s not gonna be in favor of the artists, and it‘s not gonna be in favor of music fans,“ says Steve Jones, co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers, an international think tank. ”I’m not terribly hopeful for anything but a commercial-broadcast model of Internet radio.“