Neighborhood Radio

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Ryan Gilbert

In the age of corporate mass media conglomeration, and consolidation, many individual communities not only lack access to the media making structure but are also misrepresented, misinformed, and ignored by the media structure in place.


Microradio is an analog technology that still holds vast possibilties for unmediated communication and community exchange in a digital society. For its reach and accessibility, microradio is a relatively cheap communications technology that can be built and utilized with widely available instructions and resources.


Radio was invented as a means of transmitting sounds over distances through the collective air that we all breath. Over time, the right to transmit sound on our airwaves has been relegated to a licensing process, and over time, this licensing process has grown to aid society’s rich and most priveleged in grossly disproportionate amounts. While radio licenses to the poor, marginalized, and community groups do exist, they make up but a tiny fraction of all licenses granted.
As media ownership limits are repeatedly stripped away by government regulatory bodies, our media resources continue to be stolen and dominated by a rich and powerful few. The same corporate-influenced government bureacracy that makes it so hard for marginalized communities to reverse these laws of legal domination, however, can easily taken advantage of through community direct action for reclamation of the airwaves.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), bogged down by size and process, is generally very slow in its response to illegal broadcasting activity. Typically, numerous complaints must be generated by the public, and more importantly, corporate radio engineers, before the FCC deploys field agents to take legal action against unlicensed broadcasters. Even in the most severe “bust” scenarios, only one unlicensed broadcaster has ever had to pay a fine, and it was done voluntarily.
Because these laws are rarely enforced, direct action with broad participation can instantly create a “citizens’ band” in every city- dozens of new community radio stations on the FM dial. People citywide must construct their own micro transmitters and antennas, and broadcast to their neighborhoods with less than 10 watts of micropower. With tens to hundreds of people broadcasting in each and every borough, the FCC bureaucracy will be severly overwhelmed, thereby exponentially reducing the risk to each individual broadcaster.
For the broadcasters who do get “busted” by the FCC, a wide base of community support will already be established through the neighborhood microradio network. The FCC typically fears challenging community-supported microradio because of the bad public image they may receive- see cases of Free Radio Santa Cruz and Radio Free Brighton-Allston, who have city council support, and West Philly Pirate Radio’s broadcast at the liberty bell, when they publicly invited the FCC to bust them.


Popular direct action has historically changed social policy in societies plagued by undemocratic institutions. With the advent of thousands of neighborhood microtransmitters popping up across the country, the public right to the airwaves can be reclaimed, along with the corporate-controlled licensing process currently in place.

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