Thursday, September 25, 2003

Seeing some pick up in local music activity and venue interest in supporting us. Pick's doing a great job of keeping us in the 'eyes' of the local venues through his own contacts.

Hope to see more local acts doing live studio free shows in the near future. Blue's working on it along with Pick. Alot of work but, damn, what a platform for these guys.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

We're having a hard time keeping the stream stable for some reason. Moving the output of the studio to the STL works most, but not all, of the time. The system has gotten so complex in some ways (with so many potential points of failure) that I'm just not sure how we CAN make it more stable.

So, for now, it requires a fair amount of babysitting. It's generally easy to fix. Just long into the remote STL computer/transmitter setup using WinVNC (the free program you can use to control a computer remotely) and restart the stream. All the BURG (Boulder Underground Radio Group) DJ's know how to do this so we're, reasonably, on top of it.

However, there are times, especially during the day, when the stream will go down for an hour or two (sometimes more) before someone can get to the STL via the internet (either from home/business or studio) to get it restarted.

Ahhh.. pirate radio. You just never know what to expect. ;-)

Thursday, September 11, 2003

There's really a need to expand what's happening with pirate radio. This idea of creating a network of pirate radio stations (1000 over the next 10 years). The only way to do that is to come up with a sort of template that's reasonable and easy to replicate.

First, we need a model of how an individual station runs. What's works? What are the social structures that seem to stand up over time? This includes a primer on how to get started, who to trust, who not to and how to keep your station on the air and safe from FCC interference for as long as possible (if not indefinitely). This includes clear legal advise provided by our legal council in plain English with specific procedures on what to do in any conceivable situtuation.

Second, we need a clearly written technical primer on equipment and setup of a pirate radio station with clear drawings, suggested equipment and suppliers and, potentially, negotiated deals with those equipment suppliers for special pricing that makes it easier for and Real Public Radio (RPR) network station to set up and operate.

Seond we need an informal council made up of members from each of the member stations. Due to the geographically dispersed nature of pirate radio (they are, after all, local, not national) and the lack of funds (pirate radio will almost always run on a shoestring), a way of meeting that’s virtual has to be developed. A website/private discussion board type of set up. This group will set the policies and the direction of the Real Public Radio network and steer it towards it’s ultimate goal of becoming a legitimate (potentially fully licensed) network to rival NPR or Clear Channel in scope and number of stations. Or determining that a different route (such as continuing in an unlicensed way) is the appropriate route to take.

fourth, we need a general meeting place for all of the stations to share information. Stories in text and, most importantly, audio. Audio stories, news, music from local and indie artists that aren’t currently signed to large labels, etc. That means a server with substantional bandwidth (for up and downloading) as well as significant server storage space (a terabyte or more). We’ll need discussion boards, file transfer areas and stream hosting services. This is going to be the key.. this server. It becomes our distribution network and the heart of the system that holds together the overall Real Public Radio (RPR) network.

Fifth, we need a well designed and executed plan for developing influence with political and social organizations that starts at the local level (city councils, mayors, county commissioners, local law enforcement, local businessmen/women, the local chamber or commerce), then the state level (state senators, the governor, the state judicial system, larger businesses based in that state), then the national level (congressmen and senators, federal judicial system and large multinational corporations). Although it may sound paradoxical to get these people on the side of locally focused radio media, in every group there will be a supporter. They will be in the minority, but at every level and in every area (both public and private sector) we should be able to recruit support from sympathetic people that believe in the cause of free speech and the understanding that radio spectrum belongs to the citizens for their use, first and foremost, and for the commercial interests, only after the local communities needs have been satisfied.

So these five things: Local station structure, clear & simple technical and legal primer, a governing council made up of station representatives, an advanced set of internet based communication and media distribution services and a plan for influencing local, state and national political, law and business organizations, are the basic building blocks we need to create this national network of pirate radio stations called the Real Public Radio (RPR) network.

I’ll try to expand on each of these five areas here in the future, developing the ideas and approaches in a way that we can than create documents and websites that contain the information in an easy to read/understand and access way.

More to come!

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I've been thinking about the FCC's recent announcement that they'll be allowing up to 1000 LPFM licenses that have been rotting in the system to go foward and I've been trying to decide, is this good?

I've come to the conclusion that no, it really isn't. Mostly because it's a spin thing... Powell, the FCC chairman, is getting nailed by the public and congress for being too 'big media business friendly'... so he's doing this mostly to counter the (correct) perception that he's anti-local media. When a Scripts newspaper (like the Boulder Camera) does a positive article on pirate radio, as they just did, you know that the FCC's gone too far. This whole LPFM thing is, now at least, a red herring. It's a way of saying: 'hey, we give them a way to get licensed... so the unlicensed guys are just being jerks'.

But, if you think about it, that's just not true. Most of the LPFM license applications that were accepted were from church groups and state highway departments. Now THERE's a great source of diversity in programming eh? And the windows where so tight, and the information so limited, that only people that were very aware it was going on even had the opportunity to move on it. Local groups that would have been great a running a small locally focused radio station did'nt even know it was going on until it was over.

And, of course, nothing's 'opening' for anyone new. If you didn't get your license application in during the windows, you're SOL. No new windows, no new licenses. My bet is ever, and if they do open it again, it'll be years.

And even if we COULD get a license, would the kind of radio we'd be broadcasting be any better than what's there now? If you play a song that has an objectionable word in it, you're subject to a $7000 (per instance) fine from the FCC. If the 'local community' (read: those with money and the loudest voices) don't like your point of view and complain loud enough and contribute enough money to the right politico's.. you're license is going to be up for review damned quickly.

So this gets the philosophical question of... should we even TRY to get a license if the opportunity comes up?

I haven't fully decided on it either way, but I'm struggling to find an up side to it (other than not having to worry about getting a 'knock' on the door from FCC agents someday).
CONTACT info: If anyone's actually reading this, which I doubt, feel free to drop me a line sometime. My email is MONK@KBFR.ORG. That's our website as well ( Live stream of the station and other fun and interesting info. We've also got a mailing address: 1750 30th Street #565, Boulder, CO. 80301. And the studio line is 720-276-4493. If you leave a voicemail for me the DJ's will make sure I get it.
Trying some new things today. The internet stream to the remote location has been flakey so we put a 100GB hard disk in that machine loaded with music. We can control it remotely via WinVNC (a free program that allows you to bring up the screen of a computer that's far away via the internet). Works great. I can log into the computer from my house, the van, the studio, anywhere with a web browser and internet access, log into the computer, and adjust the playlist. The only thing I can't do is go live on air via mic (yet.. working on that).

Imagine the possibilities! A little box that holds a transmitter, computer, small mixer and a wifi connection device that's picking up a local wifi hot spot along with an antenna on the roof and you've got a complete radio station that you 'hide' almost anywhere that's got 3-4 (yea... three or four) square feet of space, a power outlet, and a nearby wifi connection.
Having a hard time keeping the internet connection/stream up today for some reason. The local DSL guys who give us access aren't doing an overly great job. Right now we're using that stream to move the signal across the internet to a remote site for broadcast and an unreliable internet connection just isn't a good thing to have. Make damn sure you've got reliable internet access if you're going to do reasonably 'safe' pirate radio.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Tag line: Radio So Good, It's Illegal. Anyone have some ideas of other tag lines? Would love to hear them.
Rules for running a safe pirate radio station:

1) NEVER use real names. If the FCC can't get a real legal name to attach an action (fine) to, they don't have any leverage to stop you. In your group, always use alias's, even day to day. This is your best protection against getting shut down long term. You may get shut down short term, but if they don't have a name, you can come back over and over again.

2) If you're running hot (i.e. a transmitter IN the studio you're broadcasting from), eventually, you WILL get a visit from the FCC. DO NOT let them in without a warrant. Regardless of what they say, they CAN NOT come in without that warrant.

3) DO NOT talk with them. Say "I have nothing to say to you, you're on private property, please leave". Even if they have a local cop with them (which is likely) you don't have to let them in and you don't have to talk with them. They are generally very good at drawing you out and getting you to say things you'll regret later. Don't give them the chance. Don't talk. Period.

4) If they do have a warrant (which is highly unlikely if it's your first visit), let them in. The first visit is a 'search and warn' mission. They want compliance (i.e. shutting off the transmitter) more than anything else. They'd like to get their hands on the transmitter but can't without a warrant (again, something they are very unlikly to have on the first visit). Let them go where they want, but take pictures and record (with a tape or video camera) everything they do. This is useful for talking to the media later and ensuring they don't do anything particularly rude or illegal (which they are capable of.. they are excellent 'social engineers'... getting things through hook and crook they can't get legally).

In general, the FCC agent's are good guys in a bad situation. Most of them are no happier to be there than you are. To them you're a very small problem taking up valuable time. There are only about 400 (I've heard as little as 200) field agents that can do this kind of work and they've got alot of other things to worry about (telephone companies, cable companies, cellular phone companies, that remote control for your garage door opener.. anything that lives in the electromagnetic spectrum that they regulate). They are most likely there because someone (usually a local radio station, usually a clear channel station- they are the most aggressive) complained. Be polite, don't talk to them, turn off the transmitter after you ask them to leave and shut the door and wait a day before going back on air.

Next, if you choose to continue broadcasting from that same location... you're now at risk of a raid (with a warrant). They know where you are, and they can go to a judge and get that warrant (usually to take all your equipment.. and I mean ALL of it. If it has anything to do with sound,they'll take it. Your stereo, your tv, anything they can... although all they really want is the transmitter.. they'll take it all because it makes it harder for you to come back on air).

Your best bet after the first visit it to MOVE locations. That resets the process. They're back into 'warning only' mode.. and the chances of getting a warrant, if you're in a different location (raising the potential that you're a different set of pirates...) resets the legal process, for them, to zero.

So if you move EVERY TIME after a visit, chances are, you'll never get shut down. Just harrassed. So plan for it. Have a new location planned and ready to take you when you get a visit. Move your station overnight and come back up the next day. They'll be back, but it's likely to be 3-6 or even 12 months later.
Got a call from a reporter today that writes for The New Yorker, Wired, etc.. looking for an angle on how to position the big media companies against the loss of a local voice in media (in this case, radio).

Trying to decide if it makes sense to talk with him. One of the great strengths of being a pirate is the underground nature of it. The lower your profile, the better. The higher you get, the better target you are.

That, unfortunately, has to be balanced with the need to get the word out about what we do and why it's important. You have to take the risk of being 'known' to be supported (which also targets you).

Still deciding what makes the most sense. We've been getting alot of media attention lately, and a small film crew is doing a documentary on us that they plan to submit to the Sundance Film Festival.

Tough choice. Good one to have, but tough nonetheless.

How do we run Boulder Free Radio? We use technology to the fullest to create a semi-safe environment to broadcast a 150 watt 'unlicensed' signal to 95.3FM in Boulder, CO.

We work out of several 'fixed' studio locations. We also operate out of a mobile van setup. The van has the ability to 'plug in' to antenna sites setup around Boulder (antenna's in tree's and power cords running from houses/business of listeners who support us).

We also use STL (Studio Transmitter Link) setups that use internet streaming.

The STL consists of a computer, mixer, transmitter and wireless (WiFi) connector that allows us to pick up a high speed internet connection. We log into the site and start the 'stream' that comes out of one of our fixed studios. This stream is sent to the mixer, which is hooked into the transmitter, which goes to an antenna (usually in a tree, or on a tripod in the back yard of the STL 'host' site).

This keeps the studio sessions 'safe'. The STL host site is someone who's agreed to host a "ham radio re-transmitter'. When the FCC comes and 'busts' the STL site, the host simply tells the FCC that they understood it to be a ham radio setup... they agree to turn it off, and they don't let them take the equipment (saying: it's not mine so I can't give you permission to take it).

That satsify's the FCC (it get's turned off) and since all first contacts are 'warnings', the STL host is only warned. As long as they aren't warned a second time, chances of a fine are almost zero. We then come and take the STL setup away (it's in an outdoor enclosure that's easy to dismantle and move in about 10 minutes).

We then set it up at a different location (with wifi wireless access) and start the process over again.

And, in between, we use the van from the various antenna sites and from a magnet mounted antenna on the roof when we want to be mobile (often broadcasting from the side of the mountains that Boulder is nestled up against).

Monday, September 01, 2003

Ahhh technology.... The wifi link between the van and the studio transmitter link via an internet stream 'feed' didn't work... we found 6 potential wifi links hours before the show.. come show time.. all of them had disappeared...

The virtues of being mobile. Wifi is wonderful, but it's not ready for prime time just yet.