>Stephen Dunifer is the founder of Free Radio Berkeley and International
>Radio Action Training Education (IRATE) and co-editor with Ron Sakolsky
>of Seizing the Airwaves, A Free Radio Handbook. Stephen launched his
>own unauthorized FM radio station from the hills outside of Berkeley in
>the spring of 1993. Since then, Stephen has focused his energy on helping
>to build a movement; offering workshops and technical support and
>distributing simple, inexpensive radio equipment to community radio
>activists throughout the United States and to places like Haiti, Chiapas,
>El Salvador and East Timor.
>Stephen will discuss how micropower broadcasting can address the effects
>of the concentration of ownership in the radio industry, which have
>accelerated since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Now,
>a single owner can control as many as eight stations in one city. According
>to the latest data, three companies - Clear Channel (512), AMFM (443) and
>Cumulus Media (231) now control almost 1,200 stations.
Stephen Dunifer began his presentation by passing around a pair of printed circuit boards containing all the electronics required to put a micropower radio station on the air. They were about the size of a large paperback, with one or two heat sinks sticking up an inch or so, but mostly much lower than that. He explained that all it really takes to put a micropower station on the air is about $2,500.00 worth of stuff, all of which can fit on a table of the sort that seats four at a restaurant. For this investment, you get a signal that can be easily picked up by a standard FM receiver, the kind everybody already has in this country, as far as twelve miles away. There are many such stations in the world around us already.
Dunifer began the free radio movement in Berkeley in 1993 when it became obvious that the majority on the City Council was owned by UC Berkeley and the developers. They set up the first pirate radio station because the traditional channels for voicing dissent were being closed off to them by corporate consolidation. It was pure and simple civil disobedience, putting what they had to say out there in spite of the fact that the powers that be don't want it to happen.
There are many small towns with no commercial radio stations where one of these kits can give the community a voice in places like Alaska and Texas. Pirate radio got a tremendous boost from the Seattle WTO meeting, where they broadcast what was happening on the streets, providing an alternative to the story the mainstream media was broadcasting. Working with indymedia.org they were able to get the word out on peaceful protests, and also to demonstrate the power of free media.
Pirate radio has been the focus of many legal battles. The current status of the movement is that it is illegal to broadcast without a license, and all of the radio licenses available seem to have been bought by major corporations. However, even in saturated media markets like the SF Bay Area, there are four or five frequencies where such stations can, and do, broadcast. Dunifer told a story about a County Judge in Texas who was being interviewed on the air and two cops from the FCC busted the station. They ended up staring at their shoes when they realized that the judge they were going to have to appear in front of was right there at the scene of the crime. He called it "another fine moment in American broadcasting history."
Usually, at least in this country, a pirate radio station is a community of DJ's that share a small office with a budget of something like $500 a month, including utilities and everything else. Bills are handled by getting everybody to chip in about $20 for expenses. Advertising is usually not accepted. Content varies widely from station to station, everything from local high school football to MP3 copies of music from other places. For such stations, the internet is turning out to be a great way to share content to put on the air.
For more information go to www.freeradio.org.