Best Way to Reclaim the Airwaves

Full disclosure: Fuck the FCC! According to the federal government, radio stations must be licensed by the FCC. The only problem is that commercial radio has been concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, especially after the 1996 Telecommunications Act, creating media monopolies (Clear Channel owns 1,200 stations in 230 markets) who have the bad habit of smashing alternative viewpoints.

But there is a band of rebels, mutineers of the airwaves who have dared to challenge the system with their “electronic civil disobedience” pirate radio or, more accurately, micropower- broadcasting free radio, low-power (a half watt to 150 watts) stations operating without permission or a license from the government.

“We can’t trust the media; we have to do it ourselves,” says one free-radio freedom fighter. My street research shows that Los Angeles has at least six (four east of the L.A. River) free-radio stations being run by individuals and/or collectives. One of those freedom fighters is Zacarias de la Rocha, ex–Rage Against the Machine rhyme spitter, who, according to 2005 FCC records, was sent a warning letter to his home. It read: “The Los Angeles office recently monitored the signal of an unlicensed broadcast radio station operating on 104.7 Mhz .?.?. agents from this office confirmed by direction-finding techniques that radio signals on frequency 104.7 Mhz were emanating from your residence .?.?. The Commission’s records show that no license was issued for operation of a broadcast station at this location on 104.7 Mhz .?.?. UNLICENSED OPERATION OF THIS RADIO STATION MUST BE DISCONTINUED IMMEDIATELY.”

Although the FCC continues to intimidate individuals with warning letters and might even send agents to your doorstep, the fact is that running a free-radio station is a civil offense, not a criminal one! At least, according to my free-radio source. So if you’re willing to walk the plank and help reclaim the airwaves neighborhood by neighborhood, Free Radio Berkeley’s Radio Camps will teach you how to build and set up a low-power community radio station — for “educational purposes only,” of course.

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