CALIFORNIA–Free Radio Berkeley, an unlicensed low-power radio station, stopped transmitting its signal following a mid-June ruling against it by the federal District Court in Oakland.
Judge Claudia Wilken denied Free Radio Berkeley owner Stephen Dunifer’s free-speech challenge to the FCC’s action against him, saying that he did not have standing to challenge the FCC’s regulations as unconstitutional because he has never applied for a license from the FCC. She also stated that the ruling was not based on the merits of Dunifer’s claims, and that if he applied for a license, the FCC would have to consider the constitutional issues he raised.
Dunifer calls his unlicensed broadcasts an “act of civil disobedience to effect a change in the FCC’s rules” to allow his and other low-power stations to legally broadcast.
The National Association of Broadcasters applauded the FCC’s action. NAB President Edward Fritts said, “This decision represents a great victory for legitimate broadcasters who play by the rules. Radio pirates not only cause significant interference; they are also a threat to public safety by interrupting communications between airplane pilots and air traffic controllers.”
The FCC, which initially ordered Free Radio Berkeley off the air in 1995, currently refuses to grant stations of less than 100 watts licenses to broadcast.
Dunifer, who touts “micropower radio” as a “unique opportunity for community voices not served by the mainstream media,” sued to enjoin enforcement of the FCC’s decision. He argued that in banning low-power stations, the FCC is “ignoring its mission to regulate radio broadcasting in the public interest” and the ban is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. He claims that the regulations and the expensive licensing and startup fees simply “concentrate radio ownership in the hands of large corporations while leaving the public excluded.”
Dunifer announced that he will challenge the ruling; he also stated he intends to continue pressuring the FCC to change its rules to allow low-power stations to operate. (U.S. v. Free Radio Berkeley; Media Counsel: Luke Hiken)