FCC pulls the plug on unlicensed low-power radio station
- A publicly hailed yet unlicensed radio station in San Francisco was closed down by the FCC and federal marshals.
Oct. 23, 2003 — A low-power radio station in San Francisco, which broadcast without a license for the past 10 years, was shut down by the Federal Communications Commission last week
On July 2, broadcasters at Liberation Radio turned away FCC officials asking to inspect the station’s equipment. On Oct. 15, the FCC returned to the station with police officers, federal marshals and a court order to seize all broadcast equipment.
Carolyn Hatch, radio show host and station organizer, said when an equipment arrest warrant is signed by a judge, the attorney of the seized party is notified. There was no such notification in this case, she said.
“We’re planning on filing to get our equipment back based on the secret way they went about getting the warrant,” said Hatch.
The station, which broadcast on 93.7 FM in San Francisco’s Castro District, applied for a license following the passage of the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act (RBPA) of 2000, only to have its request quietly denied, according to Peter Franck, the station’s attorney. Franck said the station was never notified, but rather he sought out the decision on the FCC’s Web site.
On Aug. 18, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution that praised Liberation Radio. Written by board President Matt Gonzalez, it stated the station had “provided an invaluable public service to the City and County of San Francisco for the past 10 years,” and urged “the FCC not to interfere with the functioning of San Francisco Liberation Radio 93.7 FM.”
After FCC officials sought to investigate the radio station in July, Franck wrote a letter to the commission urging it to stay away and not seek a warrant to seize the station’s equipment. Franck also questioned the FCC’s rejection of his client’s license application, writing that the FCC failed to state which provisions of the act it invoked.
According to Franck, there are only two applicable provisions the FCC could have based its license refusal on. The first is the provision which prohibits a licensee from broadcasting too close to another channel. The other bars applicants who have previously broadcast without a license.
Franck says the RBPA provision that disqualifies low-power FM stations from receiving a license if the station previously broadcast without government authorization is discriminatory against those the act might have otherwise helped.
“The FCC considers character questions in general license applications,” said Franck, “but you could be a murderer and you’re not automatically disqualified.”
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press