Free Radio Gainesville
The words “free” and “fight” can be either nouns or verbs, even in the context of this article’s title. But to begin with, “Free Radio Gainesville” is a proper noun. It’s the name of a Gainesville collective that has stated the following mission:
“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.”
One of the members of the collective’s governing committee, Howard Rosenfeld, has stated that “Unofficially, one thing the FRG collective seeks to build are counter-institutions (also called the concept of dual-power). One way people are oppressed are by the disinformation being spread by mainstream, corporate media institutions. These institutions have existed for years, some for decades, and have a considerable amount of power and influence. We recognize this “staying power” that they have to influence people’s thoughts and ideas, and we believe that if we build institutions to counter their information and we organize ourselves to outlast them, then we’ll have a good chance of empowering people to get better information to help make decisions about how to live their lives and what to fight for.”
FRG began broadcasting in 1997, with a 7-watt transmitter, later upped to a whopping 40 watts. In addition to political discussions and local and national news, the station also played music, and even spoken-word, which couldn’t be heard anywhere else in town, lots of it by local musicians and poets. What it didn’t have was a license, which the Federal Communications Commission stopped issuing to low-power FM (“LPFM”) stations two decades ago, and which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for full-power stations.
In the summer of 1998, as part of a year-long FCC crackdown that shut down hundreds of LPFM stations across the US, the FCC served a cease-and-desist order on FRG, which responded by a press conference, a teach-in on LPFM, and moving its secret studio to a new location. On November 30, the FCC broke into the new FRG location (FRG was not on the air at the time) and took all of FRG’s studio equipment, worth some $1,500.
Since last summer, at least two teach-ins and four benefit concerts have been held by and for FRG, the latest benefit at the Covered Dish on January 13. The benefits have raised thousands of dollars for FRG, but legal bills, replacement equipment (if the group decides to go back on the air), and a $6,000 fine may make that sum a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Rosenfeld notes that FRG is “currently in the process of organizing a far-reaching campaign to organize supporters of LPFM, including getting a city resolution passed.” FRG even attempted to place a float in the UF Homecoming Parade, but when campus politcos in charge rebuffed FRG, members simply took to the streets without a float instead, walking the parade route and handing out literature about the LPFM movement and FRG.
Efforts like FRG’s may be paying off. On January 28, the FCC voted 4-1 in favor of considering proposals which would re-legalize LPFM radio, despite lobbying from commercial full-power stations. The broadcasting industry’s lobbyists were countered by micro-radio supporters, who signed petitions (4,000 signatures were gathered in Florida alone), and sent their own representatives, such as members of Americans for Radio Diversity and the National Lawyers’ Guild Committee On Democratic Communications, which have decried the lack of diversity on the airwaves in the wake of 1996 federal legislation which allowed single media companies to own numerous media outlets, including radio stations. But at this point, Rosenfeld can only respond with “guarded enthusiasm.” While FRG is “generally… behind any proposal the NLG puts out,” the FCC approval process is just beginning, and an Associated Press report from the day of the FCC vote stated that FCC officials indicated that “pirates” who refused to back down when the FCC ordered them off the airwaves “could have a tough time getting a license” under any new scheme.
The future of American radio is thus up for grabs. If you would like to get involved, visit FRG’s website, http://www.atlantic.net/~matthew/frg, or send them an e-mail at email@example.com For info on the national movement of which FRG is a part, go to http://www.radio4all.org or http://www.radiodiversity.com You can contact the FCC about this issue at firstname.lastname@example.org Don’t just complain about crappy radio — do something about it!