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    Herding Cats: Anarchism, Organization, and Free Radio

    Ted M. Coopman

    This paper was presented at the 2000 Western States Communication Association's annual convention, February 25-29, Sacramento, CA

    Please note this version is a draft and will be revised soon (including internal hypertext links)


    "Organizing anarchists is like trying to herd cats."

    -Tom Schreiner, a founding member of Free Radio Santa Cruz.

    Free radio, known by many as pirate radio, has a solid political tradition that has its origins in Europe. Much of the impetus of unlicensed radio on both sides of the Atlantic has been from left political activists, in many cases' anarchists. Popularly regarded as the opposite of order and organization, anarchism is actually a multifaceted political philosophy that contains its own unique organizational structure. This organizational structure is well suited to the fluid and dynamic nature of unlicensed radio. On the basis of lessons learned from European radio radicals, many Free Radio stations in the US have adopted a unique organizational structure that is in tune with this philosophy. So effective are these organizations, that they have consistently managed to not only out maneuver federal authorities and stay on the air, but have been the driving force in putting free radio on the nations' communication agenda.

    Herding Cats: Anarchism, Organization, and Free Radio

    While researching my Masters thesis on Micro Radio in 1994, I interviewed Tom Schreiner. Schreiner, is a self-described "agitator" and a founding member of Free Radio Santa Cruz as well as a key early supporter of Latino Micro Radio stations in Salinas and Watsonville, CA. As he described to me the processes involved in putting Free Radio Santa Cruz on-the-air, he told me "Organizing anarchists is like trying to herd cats." This interesting metaphor invokes a visualization that at once humorous and telling. Cats must be coaxed, negotiated with, and otherwise persuaded into action. Anyone who has attempted to commanded a cat into action has a clear understanding of this.M

    To understand the development of the organizational structure of Micro Radio stations as they developed in the United States in the last decade of the 20th Century, one must first explore the rise of the Free Radio Movement. Especially important are the influences of European underground radio and Anarchist political thought. In this paper I will first explore the concepts behind Free Radio and the Free Radio Movement; second I will discuss the definitions and applications of Anarchism to the successful operation on Free Radio Stations; next will come a discussion of the European origins of Free Radio organization; and finally how many Free Radio stations organize themselves along these lines and why this makes them successful.

    The Rise of Micro Radio in the United States
    Micro Radio, also known as Free Radio, or Pirate Radio, generally refers to small wattage unlicensed FM radio stations. However, the definitions become have become more complicated as the FCC has recently elected to license a Low Power Radio Service. Most people refer to unlicensed radio as pirate radio, which is not entirely accurate. To understand these stations, it is important differentiate between the different types and settle on some definitions. These definitions are specific to the US.

    Pirate Radio
    Pirate radio has existed since the dawn of broadcasting. A Pirate radio station is a station that operates without the benefit of government sanction (license). Historically, pirate radio activity has been relatively low in the US. The nature of US broadcast regulation and the radio station market that, until the 1980's, remained reasonably accessible to many people were the primary factors in its rarity. Most pirate radio activity in the US has been concentrated on the Short-wave band. The FCC considers the term pirate radio to generally describe a Short-wave phenomenon. Pirate radio, whether it is on the short-wave or normal bands, has some basic characteristics the set it apart from Free Radio. Any content broadcast was secondary to eluding detection by authorities. This usually involves frequency switching, irregular operational hours, and broadcasting during times when the FCC would not likely be listening (holidays, weekend, snow emergencies, etc.). Pirates are usually not part of an organization, do not have a political agenda, and are not rooted in their communities. Pirates often broadcast for the thrill and are likely to be radio hobbyists. This is usually a technical rather than a political or ideological act. The main goal of broadcasting was technical in nature, the ability to produce a quality signal. Anonymity and avoiding detection were primary aspects of this activity (Coopman, 1995, Yoder, 1990).

    Micro Radio/Free Radio

    "Pirates come on the air and won't tell you were they are. They have no purpose. They are people who just want to hear themselves talk or hear some particular type of music....We're in it for psychological survival and ultimate liberation (p.24)."

    -Mbanna Kantako Black Liberation Radio: A Case Study of the Micro-Radio Movement (Sheilds & Ogles, 1992)

    The term Micro Radio was coined by Mbanna Kantako, a blind African-American who began broadcasting from his housing project in Springfield, IL in the mid-1980's. Micro radio broadcasts at very low power, usually 10 to 30 watts, but up to 100 watts. Until the 2000 FCC decision to create a Low Power Service, the minimum broadcast strength was 100 watts. Micro Radio began to catch on in the early 1990's. This occurred for several reasons. The entry level for licensed broadcasting was very high and beyond the reach of most people. The increased consolidation of broadcasting, accelerated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, drove the prices of radio stations in most US cities into the ten's of millions of dollars. Non-commercial Educational Licenses (NCE) were difficult to come by and delegated to a small reserved section of the FM band. Often, applications for these licenses were challenged by deep-pocketed religious broadcasting networks (also known as "godcasters") or well funded public radio franchises. After the expense of the initial engineering studies required by the FCC, the extra court and lawyer fees generated by a contested application were too much for many would-be broadcasters. Most organizations could not even meet the initial expenses of starting this process or found that there were simply no open frequencies to be found in their communities. There was also the perception by many groups and individuals that the existing public radio stations were unwilling to allow many voices on the air. National Public Radio programming, expensive but also revenue generating, began to take up more and more time on many public stations. Further, the drive to "professionalize" public radio and make it more attractive to a certain class of listener only made acquiring air time that much more difficult. In the defense of these stations, funding pressures, especially the dwindling contributions from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), put them in dire financial straits. The primary independent non-commercial network, Pacifica, was also in trouble. Always a bastion for the left, this network came under increased financial pressures and a Board of Directors who felt that a more centralized control of its stations was in order. This resulted in the elimination of certain programmers and announcers that sparked a battle for control of the network that is (as of February 200) still being waged.

    If there can be a flash-point for Micro Radio, it is the Gulf War in 1990. It was another Micro Radio Pioneer, Stephen Dunifer's ³total and absolute disgust² with what happened during the war that spurred him to action: ³The media essentially moved into a spare office in the Pentagon and tried to make it some national celebration that we murdered several hundred thousand people in that part of the world.² It was Dunifer¹s perception that the media (commercial and public) were coopted by the Pentagon and became a propaganda tool for American foreign policy. Add to this mix the adoption of the internet and the ability to quickly and cheaply communicate across long distances, and the a national Free Radio Movement was born (Coopman, 1997).

    Micro Radio has developed far beyond the ideals and aspirations of its original proponents. Micro radio stations cover a wide variety of political and social viewpoints and are organized in a variety of ways. In my earlier research I had defined Micro Radio in a very specific way, but I feel that it has outgrown this old definition. This older definition being now applied to Free Radio. So for the purposes of this research, I am defining Micro Radio simply as radio stations that operate under 100 watts of power. In this context (and under the revised definition of Micro Radio) Low Power Radio or LPFM and Micro Radio have the same meaning.

    Free Radio, however, is a purely political entity. Beginning with Kantako in 1986, free radio have operated in full knowledge and defiance of the law. Further, they have generally operated in the open and from fixed locations as acts of "electronic civil disobedience." These stations run full schedules for the most part, and often have studio telephones and announce their numbers. Free Radio stations can be of any political persuasion, but a vast majority are left/anarchist. Free Radio stations are primarily tools for political activism and dissent. It is Free Radio as defined here that this paper is concerned with.

    This vision of Anarchism in the US, that of rock throwing, black clad, nihilistic youth breaking windows at the November 1999 WTO Meeting in Seattle, is a vast over-simplification. Bookchin gives us the following insights:

    "The Hellenic origins of the terms anarchy or 'no rule' should not deceive us into thinking that it can be readily placed in the academic spectrum of social ideas. Historically, Anarchism has found expression in non-authoritarian clans, tribes and tribal federations, in the democratic institutions of the Athenian polis, in the early medieval communes, in the radical Puritan congregations of the English Revolution, in the democratic town meetings that spread from Boston to Charleston after 1760, in the Paris Commune of 1871, the soviets of 1905 and 1917, the Anarchist pueblos, barrios, and worker-controlled shops of the Spanish Revolution of 1936 -- in short, in the self-directed, early and contemporary, social forms of humanity that have institutionally involved people in face-to-face relations based on direct democracy, self-management, active citizenship, and personal. participation . It is within this electric public sphere that the Anarchist credo of direct action finds its real actualization. Indeed, direct action not only means the occupation of a nuclear power plant site but less dramatic, often prosaic, and tedious forms of self-management that involve patience, commitment to democratic procedures, lengthy discourse, and adecent respect for the opinions of others within the same community [bold face added].

    -Anarchism: Past and Present by Murray Bookchin presented as a lecture to the Critical Theory Seminar of the University of California at Los Angeles on May 29, 1980.

    The idea of direct action has always been popular with those who lacked the financial resources or the connections to power to have their voices heard. Often, direct action consists of civil disobedience, risking arrest to make clear the dissenters' viewpoints. It is the action, not just the message, that challenges the system. Direct action being a critique of not just the results but of the policies and practices of those in power. Those who instigated the Free Radio Movement took their concerns for social injustice, corporate influence, and other social issues and took them to the airwaves. Not only did they protest wider social ill's but that the media was held in the hands of a powerful few. They brought this home with what they termed "electronic civil disobedience."

    While there are many different "flavors" of anarchism, the anarchism practiced in many free radio collectives is based on direct action, self-governance, free association, and service to the community, especially those who lack economic/political/social clout. The motivation is not financial gain, control, or power over others, it is simply to make sure all voices are heard and that a community can make its own decisions based on its own needs of all its citizens. Often Anarchists are equated with hooligans, spontaneously wreaking havoc and destruction for no reason. However, poor political radicals traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to a protest is not a spontaneous act. Moreover, organizing and operating a radio station with little resources for years at a time is not the activity of choice for nihilistic youthful hooligans. Stephen Dunifer of Free Radio Berkeley, credited with sparking the Free Radio explosion in the 1990's and Lyn Gerry and Shawn Ewald, operators of the Radio4all website, nexus of the online Free Radio Movement, arguably some of the most influential individuals in Free Radio, have strong Anarchist/activist backgrounds.

    Radio is My Bomb: The European Free Radio Model

    "This book has been written with no intention of profit or financial gain. Although there is no copyright it would be hoped that any one [sic] reprinting this publication should not intend to profit from it. It is also hoped that stations using the information herein do so with the intention of setting up a free radio station. Those who see radio as a means to sell commercial products (which most of us can't afford or don't need) are not doing free radio justice. Now there's not much we can do to enforce this but we do hope your commercial station and all its tacky DJs gets raided on its first day on air. Also, a severe WARNING going out to any fascist groups interested in setting up a radio station. It's not hard to track down a signal and don't be surprised if a few free radio activists come around, and sort you out."

    -Radio is My Bomb 2nd Edition, By Billy, 1994, A free pamphlet.

    Free Radio in Europe has a long and colorful history that I will only lightly touch upon here. The broadcasting regulatory structure in most of Western Europe was traditionally based on state run monopolies. In this setting, divergent political voices and commercial interests both were involved in piracy to challenge the state run broadcasters. Many of the most notable cases, such as Radio Caroline, were almost indistinguishable from commercial stations' one could find in the US. The political left in Europe is much more robust and has a stronger history than the left in the US. It can be deeply ideological and (as seen in the above quote) fervently anti-fascist. The European Free Radio activists had an enormous influence, directly and indirectly, on American Free Radio. Interestingly enough, some Free Radio stations developed their operations with little knowledge of their European counterparts, but managed to arrive at the same conclusions either through word of mouth or independently.

    "More and more, radio is seen as a muzak machine serving up small, light McInfo nuggets between songs. Or even worse, just music, with a station call now and then. This should not be allowed. The opportunities radio can offer us are greater than the record and info industries would have us believe. It can be exciting to hear what people have to say and even sheer nonsense can offer pure listening pleasure. The news doesn't have to be up to the minute to be interesting, either. There is plenty of information that's been around a long time but never shows up in the regular media."

    -Hoisting the Jolly Roger or The Birth of a Station: Intro to Advanced Anti-organizational Science in Theory and Practice, A chapter from the Amsterdam Radio Cook Book, by Radio Patapoe.

    Radio is My Bomb and the above Hoisting the Jolly Roger are two of the most influential pamphlets on Free Radio in circulation. All the essentials from technical to ideological to organization (or anti-organization if you prefer) and financing are including in these works. The inherent distrust of authority and hierarchy are not an impediment to the operation of a Free Radio station, but one of its primary strengths. There are no owners or shareholders and no profits to be divided up. It is mutual self-interest and self-investment that drives a successful Free Radio station. The collectivism seen in these guides can run contrary to the American ethic of rugged individualism. However, these concepts have found a home in certain emerging activist communities. This not only includes Free Radio, but also the Green Party, Earth First!, and Food Not Bombs. It is not surprising that these groups have not only expressed interest and support for the Free Radio Movement, but many Free Radio activists are also members of these organizations.

    Organization, anti-organization, and Running Free Radio.

    "A mistaken - or, more often, deliberately inaccurate -interpretation alleges that the libertarian concept means the absence of all organization. This is entirely false: it is not a matter of "organization" or "nonorganization," but of two different principles of organization .... Of course, say the anarchists, society must be organized. However, the new organization . . . must be established freely, socially, and, above all, from below. The principle of organization must not issue from a center created in advance to capture the whole and impose itself upon it but, on the contrary, it must come from all sides to create nodes of coordination, natural centers to serve all these points .... On the other hand, the other kind of "organization," copied from that of the old oppressive and exploitative society, . . . would exaggerate all the blemishes of the old society . . . . It could then only be maintained by means of a new artifice."

    -The twentieth-century anarchist Voline (V. M. Eichenbaum) as excerpted in Anarchism From Theory to Practice by Daniel Guerin

    There are a number of factors that contribute to the organizational system found in many Free Radio stations. These include not only ideological considerations, but the demands of the medium, its illegality, and financial/material requirements. Since we have discussed ideology, let us look at briefly at the physical and legal rigors of operating a Free Radio station.

    The Medium
    While radio is decidedly low tech compared to may media endeavors, it still demands a degree a technical competency such as acquiring and maintaining electronic equipment. Technical issues are the most pressing. Each collective must have the services of an "engineer" to assemble and maintain a transmitter and studio. These talents are not widely held, moreover, many who would be qualified already are employed by licensed broadcasters are generally unwilling to risk their positions to help a Free Radio station. This has been partially compensated for by transmitter kit producers. These kits have become increasingly self-contained and easier to use. Complete FM transmitters may not be sold in the US. The overall cost of setting up a Free Radio station is comparatively small, with a first class operation costing between $1000 and $2000. However, many stations have gone on the air for far less. The demands of a technician to keep the station stable and on the air weigh heavily on Free Radio collectives and influence the organizational structure. The technician is really the only "irreplaceable" member.

    Broadcasting with a license by the FCC is a violation of Federal law and can result in fines ranging up to $100,000 and a year in jail for each instance (Communications Act, 1934). While this sounds dire, the fact is that very few people go to jail. I could find no record of anyone serving time for unlicensed broadcasting. The only person who has served detention for unlicensed broadcasting was Lonnie Kobres in Florida who received 6 months home supervision for repeated violations, 36 months probation, a $7,500.00 fine. Further, fines levied by the FCC are routinely reduced upon proof of an individuals ability to pay them. This may, however, be changing, The FCC in February 2000 confirmed a $20,000 fine in spite of the individuals inability to pay. They cited his broadcasting after his initial warning to stop. Still, other stations have had fines remitted (such as Free Radio Gainesville, FLA) or simply uncollected (Black Liberation Radio, Springfield, ILL). There seems to be no pattern or standard operating procedure in these matters. However, the most common method used by the FCC to shutdown unlicensed stations is to seize equipment. It has been the operational policy of the FCC to concentrate on getting unlicensed broadcasters off the air. Once this occurs, it has shown little interest in following up with punitive action. For unrepentant violators the FCC usually seeks an injunction from the federal courts. If the illegal broadcaster violates this injunction, then they are in contempt and can be charged. At this point, the FCC is out of the picture. The FCC has no police powers and must gain the cooperation of the local Federal District Attorney and a sworn officer (usually a Federal Marshall) to serve a warrant. This can be a challenge and the FCC usually will issue numerous warnings and notices before taking this step. This in the hopes of intimidating the broadcaster into ceasing operations. The FCC is further limited by having few field offices (25 nationally) and a small staff (under 400 outside of Washington DC) (FCC, 1999).

    A Free Radio stations chances of being busted are usually greater the closer they are to an FCC field office and the zeal of local licensed broadcasters in filing complaints. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has encouraged its members to seek out these stations and pressure the authorities into action. In the unlikely event that a Free Radio station interferes with a licensed station, aircraft communication or other services, the FCC is usually quick to act.

    The collective non-hierarchical structure of Free Radio stations complicates enforcement as there is often no responsible single individual. Members often use false names and stations and operate from rental properties or squats (residences, sheds, or other out buildings). Often when notices or injunctions come they are vague, as in "Groups or individuals known as Free Radio X." The collective members can disband and regroup under a different name. Landmark station Free Radio Berkeley has been replaced on its same frequency as Tree Radio Berkeley, Free Radio Cedar Tree. and Berkeley Liberation Radio. Free Radio Montrose in Houston TX was taken off the air but has turned to the internet to broadcast. This feed, in turn, has been simulcast on the stations old frequency by someone who "has no association with the station." It is also not unusual for the FCC to move into an area and shut down several stations, only to have them reappear once they have left. It simply comes down to available resources.

    Under the new Low Power Radio service, existing Free Radio stations that did not cease broadcasting by February 26, 1999 or after the initial order by the FCC to cease operations are ineligible for licenses. For may advocates, this does not matter. They do no recognize the authority of the FCC regulate their stations as long as they do not cause interference (FCC, 2000).

    Financial/Material Concerns
    There are no grants or large donors for Free Radio. Most Free Radio activists operate from out of their own pocket. While Free Radio is cheap compared to full power legal stations, there is still rent to be paid, utility bills, and equipment costs. Since Free Radio is illegal, very few mainstream community organizations are willing to help with the expenses. Most Free Radio stations help defer expenses by holding fundraising concerts and club shows with DJ's, sell t-shirts or stickers, and get small donations of cash and equipment from sympathetic people and businesses. However, the main source of income comes from the staff of the station itself. Each member pays dues to participate and it is these dues that keep the station afloat. The occasional fund-raiser can help cover big expenses, especially the many moves most stations must endure. Nervous landlords and the uncertainty of low cost rentals in general necessitate stations being highly portable. Only through the sharing of the work and financial load and the pooling of resources can these stations survive (Coopman, 1999).

    Organizational Frameworks

    "As you won't be advertising when you get on air and most likely will not have any form of financial support, it is good practice to start collecting weekly subscriptions from your membership even before you go on air. This will probably be your only source of income so keep it for basic necessities such as rent; electricity etc."

    -Radio is my Bomb

    "Doing radio costs nothing. No one thinks about it, but it's true. It's still the cheapest and most environment-friendly medium.....But money has to come from somewhere. Contributions from the programmers are a steady source of income. It sounds a bit outrageous to tell volunteers they have to pay to work. But they will do it, and should consider it an honour. Not that they will come up to you and do it voluntarily. In these circles the position of treasurer is a thankless task."

    -The Amsterdam Radio Cook Book

    Most of these stations have their roots in other organizations and movements, either officially or unofficially. Therefore, there is often a core of dedicated experienced organizers behind every station. Many of these organizations, such as Food not Bombs and the Green Party, already have a highly decentralized and consensus driven structure, so it is not surprising that this is reflected in many stations. As discussed earlier, many organizers also consider themselves some flavor of Anarchist or have become familiar with the methods of Euro-Free Radio. This central core of people, hopefully containing a technician, are usually the ones who acquire equipment and start to collect members. While the basis of these stations is a consensus driven organization of equals, the reality is that many of the primary decisions and the agenda will be set by those doing a majority of the work. Usually this is a group of 3 to 5 individuals. According to Richard Edmonson of San Francisco Liberation Radio, there is a Committee that makes many of the technical day to day decisions. They handle comments and complaints and turns them back to the station membership at meetings. Major decisions, such as censuring a member, shutting down or moving the station, or affiliating with another group, are usually based on the collective will of the station's membership. This central core must remain intact, for it contains the organizational intelligence to keep the operation running. Turn over in this area is slow, but does occur.

    While there is certainly politics of some sort involved, there is primarily self-selection. If you do a job, you get a say, the more work you do, usually the more say you have. However, providing a useful service is no guarantee that a person is in a position of authority, nor that they have futures at a particular station. Sometimes when there is conflict or disagreement, a group may split off and form another station. At other times a power struggle ensues and the station falls apart. Usually, it would seem, the offending individual is thrown out of the collective. In one case involving Free Radio Santa Cruz, a member was thrown out for abusive behavior despite his extensive contacts with local bands and his ability to obtain free tickets to local shows (which he gave away on-the-air).

    "Local pirate radio staged the megahertz equivalent of a keelhauling Jan 9, when Free Radio Santa Cruz disc jockey "Merlin" was booted off the air after a meeting of station members...Merlin's out-of-control party atmosphere brought unwarranted attention to the studio where the illegal signal emanates."

    -Nuz, Pirates Ahoy, Santa Cruz Metro, January 12-19, 2000, p.11

    Stations need to attract a constant new influx of volunteers in order to fill the broadcast day. To fill a 24/7 schedule, a station needs somewhere in the vicinity of 84 announcers (two hour shifts). Some stations have more volunteers, most less. It is hard enough to get volunteers for something, let alone for something that is not only illegal but you have to pay to do! So the "churn" can be very high as students come and go and the less dedicated move on. To facilitate this, stations must be fairly loose with people and have few rules. It is not unusual for a member to move to other areas and either join another station or help to start one (Coopman, 1999a).

    "Free Radio Gainesville is a political radio station. As operators of a micro-powered broadcast station, we intend to educate, agitate, and activate our community for truth, justice, and freedom of expression. It is our mission to contribute to the radical media project of countering the deluge of corporate lies, half-truths and omissions; to open up the airwaves to the wealth of cultural and political diversity that exists in our community; and to thereby build on the hard work of local radical media projects.....towards constructing a more informed citizenry and a just, democratic, and equal society."

    -Mission Statement of Free Radio Gainesville (FLA)

    Stations usually are run around a brief mission statement or a Constitution. Common rules include such items as collective members must pay their dues, perhaps do chores, attend meetings, cover their shifts, and refrain from hate speech. Other rules are location specific. No smoking in the studio, limited number of people in the studio, quiet after certain hours, or no alcohol for minors.

    Successful free radio stations seem to have variations on the European pirate radio model, depending on what the particular situation is. The traditional model involves a core group of organizers who attract a larger group of announcers and supporters. Major decisions are made by consensus, smaller matters are decided by the responsible individuals (engineer, benefit organizer, etc.) and teams. The alternative model, which I will call the "San Marcos" model after a station who uses it, has a more American flavor. This model is similar to the way public access cable stations are operated.

    "Of all people we know the bills of running a radio station for over two years. And we know there is a larger philosophical question lurking just around the antenna, but we look at it kind of like we(Kind Radio/Hays county Guardian/ Joe and me) own the "boat" (transmitter, antenna, mixer, 4 x 8 room) and the programmers are the fisherman. They pay $10.00 a month. That and the occasional fund raiser at a bar. Maybe $150 raised. That and also if the programmers want new equipment, "fishing poles"(mikes, CD players, cassette player, turntable, etc.), they buy them, or bring them just for their show. We all love fishing so we all make it work, and its not fair either!

    -Zeal, uKind, San Marcos, TX
    A Practical Guide to Funding your Micro Radio Station (Coopman, 1999a)

    There are advantages and disadvantages with these variations. The Euro Model can be harder to manage and is prone to disruption by disaffected members. Factions can develop and coup's are possible. However, Euro Model stations are very resilient and flexible and often survive the loss of any one individual. Moreover, in a legal sense, these stations are much harder to prosecute and shutdown as there is no specific person to blame, no one in charge, no leader or manager. This often results in the survivors of a raid being able to maintain their anonymity and resume broadcasting. The situation is slightly different if there is a "leader," someone who commands respect and can settle disputes. Stephen Dunifer of Free Radio Berkeley (FRB) is an example of this. While this can give the authorities someone to charge in court, there are still usually elements who can continue the battle. In the case of FRB, Dunifer was able to disavow any association with operating stations after his injunction went into effect. First Tree Radio Berkeley, then Free Radio Cedar Tree, and currently Berkeley Liberation Radio operate on FRB's old frequency while Dunifer has gone on to train people and organize.

    The San Marcos Model stations do not share the anonymity of a nameless crowd, so when the FCC comes knocking, they know who to talk to. Further, if the "owner of the boat" stops broadcasting or gets busted, the station is liable to cease to exist. The main advantage to this model is that decision making is more centralized and less susceptible to internal agitation and staff turn over is less likely to disrupt station operations.

    In either case, even the complete shut down of a station does not mean the stations extinction. Several stations have gone on the internet and webcast programs, essentially operating as they did prior to being shutdown. And in the case of Radio Montrose (Euro Model) in Houston, TX the feed from the "legal" webcaster in relayed live over the stations old frequency by "someone who is not affiliated directly with the station." This after a very public and very nasty power struggle that occurred before the FCC shut the station down.

    Free Radio's Future
    The flexibility and resilience of these stations, combined with a self-contained resource pool, a national affinity network, and a generally non-hierarchical structure make the elimination of Free Radio in the US highly unlikely. The political/ideological underpinnings of the Free Radio Movement have spread to other more traditional pirate radio stations. It may be argued that even a station that broadcasts all music is making a political or cultural statement by simply being on the air. In this sense, all modern pirates radio stations may be called Free Radio Stations (or visa versa). Moreover, providing the infant Low Power Radio Service can survive the onslaught of an NAB court challenge (Filed on February 17, 2000) and it's Congressional allies (Radio Preservation Act, HR 3439), it will probably have only a minor effect on the operational Free Radio stations. Most of these stations would not seek a license even if it were offered. Moreover, many of them are located in areas that the FCC has declared that no space exists for them on the dial. This even though these stations operate successfully without interference in these areas. Urban areas are a hotbed of the movement and the places were the poor and other neglected groups need the services that free radio provides.

    Organizationally, these stations have evolved to survive in a hostile and unstable environment. Their unique organizational structure make them difficult to dissuade or shutdown. There is no funding to interfere with, leaders to imprison, product to interdict, or accommodation to make. The harsher the crackdowns, the more resistance is generated. The arguments of radio activists demanding their rights to free speech have generated sympathy in the population and reduce the ability of the authorities to crack down and impose harsh penalties. Despite the protests of the NAB, there is no "victim" for this "crime." Public sympathy clearly lies with the underdog going against the corporate big guns. In an ironic turn, the chief antagonist of Free Radio faces elimination itself. The broadcasting industries, supported by the anti-regulatory zeal of the Republican Congress, has sought to rein in the authority of the FCC. There has even been moves to eliminate the FCC, which would be the only agency capable of shutting down these rogue stations. This has worked in the activists favor. Any serious effort to police the airwaves would need a major increase in power and funding for the FCC that they are very unlikely to get in this current political climate.

    The Free Radio models described in this paper are based on years of natural development both in the US and abroad. Considering that unlicensed radio station have existed and even thrived in the most adverse political environments, it is hard to imagine any steps that could be taken in the US to curtail such activity. Of further interest are the effects that the Free Radio Movement has had on groups and individuals and how the idea of media activism and reform has caught on with a public that this weary of the oligarchy that operates the media in the US. Alternative news services and the dissemination of free alternative radio programming via the internet are becoming more prevalent and organized. Tom Ness of Michigan, a major Free Radio proponent, has been tapped by the Green Party to run for the Senate. Free Radio broadcasters who have been shutdown or barred from further broadcasting have toured the country lecturing and organizing people to start their own radio stations, both legal and illegal. Media activists have also used the new access to government via the web to participate in politics and the regulatory structure. Both Democratic presidential candidates in the 2000 primaries have been convinced to publicly endorse Low Power Radio. Free Radio has spawned an interest in Media Reform. REC Networks in Tempe AZ has been instrumental in fighting the introduction of full power stations into small communities. This is a practice designed to "infiltrate" larger more lucrative urban markets near-by. Activists have discovered access to FCC rulemakings and are becoming a force during the public comment periods. This being a process normally reserved for industry, institutions, and political action committees. This awareness is making it more difficult for questionable regulations and schemes (such as IBOC - In Band on Channel digital radio) to be slipping by the American public. Finally, these media activists are looking at television and other media in the quest to open broadcasting to the wider population.

    Starting from a tiny signal in a public housing project in Springfield IL. in 1986, Free Radio has grown into a national diverse grass roots movement that has changed broadcast regulation, challenged one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington (the NAB), and elicited hearings in Congress and attention from presidential candidates. This was accomplished with no national leadership, funding, or institutional support. Organized in a classic anarchist fashion, "established freely, socially, and, above all, from below," and unbeholden to any force but their own desire for freedom, Free Radio has become a model for national activism in 21 century America.


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    Radio Patapoe, (no date). The Amsterdam Radio Cook Book, Hoisting the Jolly Roger or The Birth of a Station: Intro to Advanced Anti-organizational Science in Theory and Practice, A free pamphlet.

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    FCC Documents

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    FCC (2000), MM Docket 99-25 Creation of Low Power FM Radio Service. Available at the Federal Communications Commission Mass Media Bureau LPFM Website

    Communications Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1064 (1934), 47 United States C.A. @ 151 et. seq. (revised 1996).