(eng)Free Radio Berkeley vs. the Feds

The Anarchives (tao@presence.lglobal.com)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 15:06:20 +0000 (GMT)


Feds trying to muzzle
Free Radio

By BenChamy
Oakland Tribune
February 11, 1996

BERKELEY - Federal regulators are again trying to silence Free
Berkeley Radio, the "guerrilla station" proudly, and illegally,
operating out of the rugged Berkeley hills.

Although losing on what was basically the same lawsuit more
than a year ago, Federal Communications Commission lawyers
again will ask a judge to silence this unlicensed station whose
components can fit in a backpack.

In January 1995, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken refused to
restrain station member Stephen Paul Dunifer from operating the
station, which has for three years been broadcasting its
electic mix of music, shows and screeds against the airwave
monopoly. Wilken also sald the FCC couldn't fine the man
$20,000.

She wrote the FCC could try again, but not until it addressed
constitutional issues Dunifer raised, including how the FCC's
own rules for imposing fines against illegal radio station
operators were arbitrary.

Feeling it has righted its own system, the FCC is launching
round 2. Although the issues may be the same, the stakes are
much higher this time around.

FCC attorneys say another ruling against federal regulators
will give credence to anyone with some technical know-how and
about $500 to crowd the FM dial with microstations.

"One of things we argue was that by (ruling against the FCC) it
will give carte blanche to others to violate the law," said
David Silberman, counsel for the FCC.

It may have already begun. In the past 18 months, the unli
censed Free Berkeley Radio has grown from a three hours a week
station with a few volunteers to a station broadcasting every
day, 24 hours a day and with a crew of about 60 people. It
also has switched spots on the radio dial, moving to 104.1 FM.

In the next few months, two new stations are being set up in
East Oakland and Berkeley. A station in Richmnond is gearing
up. Several more in the South Bay are readying themselves for
broadcast.

The FCC is also using the up-coming fight as a gauge whether to
move forward with other pending lawsuits against so called
"micro-stations.

One operates from a trailer parked on a San Francisco street,
according to Magalie Salas, of the FCC's enforcement compliance
division.

If the stakes a higher, the arguments are the same. The govern
ment says the station does not have a license, something
Dunifer readily admits. The signal also can interfere with
other radio stations, communications with airplanes and emer
gency services, the government says.

But what Dunifer has successfully argued is that "microradlo"
may be illegal based on FCC standards, but is essential as the
radio band gets crowded with million dollar company-owned
stations. The FCC currently has a ban on any station operating
under 100 watts. Microstations use 10 watt antennas to
broadcast.

Luke Hiken, Dunifer's attorney, said microradio help a
community that can't afford the hundreds of thousands it would
take to establish stations of their own to serve the unique
needs of a community, he says (sic).

'Microradlo is becoming the flyer of the 1990s," said
Dunifer's attorney, Luke Hiken.
Free Berkeley Radio, for instance, offers an eclectic mix of
programs, ranging from local rap groups, shows on composting,
programs produced by local homeless people to bicycle
maintenance shows.

"Many of these broadcasters view their activities, aired to
encourage public discussion and debate, not as illegal, but
instead as in the finest tradition of American democracy,"
writes Jesse Palmer, who represents several groups such as Food
Not Bombs which routinely has programs on Free Berkeley Radio.

The battle pits people like Dunifer, who have to sneak into the
rugged Berkeley hills with equipment worth about $100 carried
in a backpack to broadcast, against industry giants like the
National Association of Broadcasters.

"(Our) members have a strong interest in ensuring that the
system is not destroyed by the introduction of unlicensed,
low power broadcast stations," writes an attorney
representing several groups.

--

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