Friday, February 18, 2005

Activist sees broadcasting on the public airwaves as a free-speech right

The tinkering rebel behind Free Radio Berkeley and the local godfather of the idea that broadcasting is a free-speech right instead of something the authorities give permission to do, [Stephen] Dunifer is offering a course this weekend on how to build your own low-power TV station. A simple station is easy to set up and costs only a few hundred dollars, said Dunifer, who is internationally known for his support of locally owned, low-power FM radio as a counterforce to corporate owners’ control of the major airwaves.

Because of the actions of Dunifer and others in persuading the Federal Communications Commission to open up the nation’s airwaves a crack, hundreds of noncommercial, low-power FM stations have gone on the air since 2000. But few of them are under local control, most carry religious programming and hardly any operate in a big city. Much more work needs to be done before media power is broadly democratized, said Dunifer, 53. Low-power TV is the latest thrust in the campaign, which Dunifer sees as global and revolutionary.

“Our whole approach to this is electronic civil disobedience on a mass level,” he said. “They gave us a few crumbs off the table. I’m tired of battling for a few crumbs. I want the whole pie, or cake.”

Under a 1998 federal court order that shut down his Free Radio Berkeley as an unlicensed FM station, Dunifer is in no position to resume broadcasting on his own. But there’s nothing to stop him from offering training and equipment to other electronics do-it-yourselfers. Free Radio Berkeley may have been silenced as a pirate station, but it’s more visible than ever as a pirate flag.


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