Local Radio Crusade Continues

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In an effort to protest against increasingly corporate radio, Free Radio Berkeley activists held workshops yesterday teaching people how to build and operate their own micro-power radio stations.

Hosted by Stephen Dunifer, the founder of Free Radio Berkeley and a pioneer in the micro-power radio movement, the workshops are part of a series of events to protest the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in San Francisco, which concludes this Saturday.

"Liberate the airwaves with micro-power broadcasting," read a poster adorning the offices of Free Radio Berkeley in West Berkeley. "Tell the (Federal Communications Commission) to kiss your Bill of Rights."

Free Radio Berkeley is a local micro-power, also known as low-power, FM radio station. Micro-power radio has a low-power output, within a one half to 40 watt range and transmits within a limited area - a radius of approximately six to 12 miles.

Although many people label the micro-power radio movement as "pirate" radio, Dunifer and others disagree.

"They call us pirates," Dunifer said. "(But) we're reclaiming stolen property - (the National Association of Broadcasters) are the pirates."

Dunifer and other activists contend that the airwaves, like air and water, are public resources and thus should be allocated to the public and not dominated by the private sector.

Dunifer acknowledges the presence of public broadcasting but referred to it as "petro-chemical broadcasting" and said that National Public Radio, commonly known as NPR, really stands for "Nothing to Provoke Revolution."

He contends that conglomerate corporations bankroll and influence public broadcasting, preventing it from serving the public.

The National Association of Broadcasters declined to comment on the protests.

About 20 people, from 20-year-olds to 50-year-olds, attended the afternoon workshop. Everyone listened attentively and watched as Dunifer explained capacitors and inducers and demonstrated soldering techniques used when building a micro-power radio transmitter.

Connor Hopkins, a low-power FM broadcaster from Texas who attended the workshops and protests, said that the Federal Communications Commission requires a license to broadcast on the radio. However, they will not grant a license to any transmitter under 100 watts on the grounds that it interferes with commercial radio, a claim he called "completely false."

Hopkins said the government views this as grounds to shut down low-power radio stations and that they recently silenced three stations in Texas.

A flyer published by Free Radio Berkeley provides a warning to radio hobbyists.

"Note: Current FCC regulations prohibit the unlicensed operation of these transmitters," it read. "It is up to you (to) decide which has precedence - free speech or federal regulations and corporate control of the airwaves."

If people are listening to community radio, then they are not listening to commercial radio, Hopkins added.

"I think they don't want to have to compete with non-commercial stations," he said.

Micro-power radio is designed, according to the activists, to give the community a voice that is otherwise not heard. According to Free Radio Berkeley, a low-power FM broadcast station can be set up for $1,500 or less, which would be ideal for community organizations such as churches and schools.


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