Thursday, July 08, 2004

Humm baby.. another week of insanity with KBFR.

As I've talked about before, we use an array of technologies to keep KBFR on the air in the face of the FCC attempting to shut us down on a regular basis.

Here's a quick recap:

-We use a van equipped as a complete radio station to broadcast (FM).
-We use wireless hotspots and sympathetic listeners Wifi access to stream, live, on the internet
-We use "STL" (studio/transmitter links) sites in fixed locations that take the internet stream and broadcast it (FM)
-We have garages and 'spaces' scattered around town (including a space that's similar to a radio/recording studio) that we can either park the van to broadcast from or have enough equipment to allow us to set up a live broadcast (streamed via internet) to either an STL or to the van parked somewhere around town (with the van acting as a sort of STL site).

Carl Nimbus and ZT have spent hundreds of hours the last few weeks getting our network up and running. We've gotten a new mondo server (1 Terabyte of storage space, 100K+ songs) that acts as our main library, and we've got smaller copies of that library spread around to the van, to STL site computers and with friends of the station.

Everyone contributes. The DJ's (numbering over 40 now), the listeners (with wifi access and equipment donations) and the local music scene (the various venues allows us to put on 'KBFR Presents' shows at favorable terms that let us raise money).

By normal FM station standards, we run very cheaply. Our monthly bills are around $500-750 and include rent on space, internet access bills, a flat fee cellular phone used as the studio line, gas for the van and repair bills for the van and equipment wear and tear.

We pay our own way. DJ's pay monthly dues that cover, pretty much, the monthy expenses. Benefits raise enough money to replace broken equipment (usually, although at the moment we're digging into our own pockets again to cover some of the bigger costs).


So that's pretty much how it works today.

WHY go to all this trouble?

Simple, the FCC wants to shut you down if you don't have a license to broadcast. We tried, but LPFM licenses for this area are not available, even though FM spectrum that we can safely and cleanly broadcast on, is. We are very good radio citizens. We go to great lengths to put out a clean signal. Many of our 'licensed' stations in the area are actually much dirtier broadcasters, splattering around their spectrum and stepping on other signals nearby their own on the FM dial. We don't do that.

But every 6-12 months, the FCC comes knocking to tell us we are running an illegal station and must shut down. Our view is simple: The airwaves belong to the people, they are not to be sold off to the highest bidder. Free speech is important and FM radio is one of the best media platforms for free speech (in the form of spoken word and music) there is. It is ubiquitous. You don't even have to be able to read to use it. It is the lowest cost and most demographic of media's on the planet. And as a result of that, it should be one of the most accessible to the average citizen. It is not. And that is why we exist.

The reason for all this use of technology is mobility and stealth. If you're mobile, and, if you're visited by the FCC and can quickly move your transmitters location, you're good to go.

The first visit by an FCC agent is meant to intimidate. They are very smooth and they are very intimidating (usually bringing a local police officer, who doesn't really know why he/she is there, with them). They have only caught us one actually in the van (it was parked at a set location for several months). Usually they will find one of our fixed STL sites (a transmitter, computer and antenna in a tree with an internet connection that streams from our van internet broadcast or from one of our 'studio/garage' locations) and leave a warning to show a license in 10 days or face shutdown and an $11,000 a day fine and up to a year in jail.

Of course, they have never actually put anyone in jail. This is intimidation tactics. They've tried, but every court in the land says 'isn't this a form of free speech?' and throws it out. So they stick with fines. And they DO fine.

Here is where anonymity comes in. We at KBFR do not know each others real names. We only know each others on air names. We don't use fixed addresses (although we do have a PO box). The van is registered in the name of someone who is no longer living in Colorado and in no way associated with us (his choice). We are, in short, completely invisible from an identity perspective. If there isn't a name to attach the fine to, there's no way to stop the group from broadcasting.

And that's how it works. Two main things: No real names and mobility mixed with stealth. If you go to the expense and trouble of creating those two things, you should be able to run as long as you want (assuming your willing to put in many long unpaid hours of time to keep it going).

If it worth it? I don't know, some days, no. But most days, absolutely yes. I heard a conversation once that went something like this:

Q: "Never underestimate the ability of a small group of concerned and thoughtful citizens to change the world. You know why?"
A: "Because that's the only thing that ever has".

It's true. We are a small group of citizens who believe in free speech. And we're willing to take action to make that so. And we're willing to face down an oppressive government agency backed by large corporate broadcasting interests like the NAB and NPR (yes, NPR) to do it.

You should be too. If we created a network of 1000 underground radio station that take back the airwaves, but do it in a way that doesn't interfere with existing stations, we become a media force that changes the landscape of thought and ideas. We bring music that's never heard to the air. We bring ideas and news that are never broadcast on the big boy's networks to the people. We ARE what America was originally created to support: Freedom.

Monk@kbfr.org

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