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Occupy Radio! Why Save KUSF, Occupy Wall Street, and Decolonize Oakland need to coordinate

“Your Dial Was Made for Revolution!”– The Radio Mutiny Collective (1998)

On November 2, 2011, I was riding my bike as close to the barricaded Occupy Oakland’s HQ as possible, listening to live on air coverage of the police brutality from nationally syndicated radio talk show host, Mike Malloy. I felt, again, the revolutionary potential of radio to bring together extrovert activists and introvert idea artists. Experience has taught me that such an alliance is crucial if any grassroots or alternative movement is to have a chance at any kind of sustained success.

My elation soon turned to frustration, however, having to listen to syndicated radio to get more than sound bites of this local event, and once again I missed KUSF. The fact that a city the size of Oakland, able to sustain major league baseball and football teams for over 40 years, does not have even one locally-owned and programmed radio station (whether commercial or non-commercial, music or talk), is itself a direct cause of the corporate control of the US congress, which is the primary grievance filed by Occupy Wall Street.

Since one of OWS’s grievances directly addresses corporate control of the media, John Anderson’s suggestion that the best way to address this situation is “by becoming the media directly” is an idea whose time has come, especially given that the corporate controlled 4th estate has even more political power than the executive branch of the government. Though it tends to get lost in all the stories of police brutality, Anderson reveals that OWS is at least considering ways to occupy the media. According to an article at DIYmedia.net, OWS has:

established a microradio station at 107.1 FM. The station simulcasts the 24/7 live stream which provides coverage of life inside Zuccotti Park, as well as street-level reportage of daily protest actions in New York City’s financial district. One idea that’s been batted around involves integrating broadcasting into the occupation’s General Assembly, which functions as its governing body. Microradio could be employed to provide a non-amplified public address system – simply plug the speaker’s mic into a transmitter. Radios are cheap, and many smartphones have built-in FM reception capability. Microradio is easily accessible to a large audience and relatively uncomplicated to deploy. Unlike most other tools of protest-media, the critical infrastructure that makes radio work is pretty much self-contained, which adds to its reliability. Microradio is also extremely useful as an outreach tool. The station in Zuccotti Park broadcasts to the occupation and immediate neighbors, which can be useful in the maintenance of good community relations.

In addition, opening up access to the airwaves in such a public manner helps to demystify the act of broadcasting and introduce folks to the notion that the airwaves, too, are a public space…. This leads to the final rationale for incorporating microradio into occupations – it’s an occupation of its own kind.”[1]

Anderson shows one potential way to Occupy Radio, but there are many other possibilities that could help the occupy movement, especially during the cold winter months where many are doing their occupying indoors. We need to continue the discussion on why Occupying Radio needs to be at the forefront of the movement. As Tom Ness puts it:

If we truly want democracy, that means our poorest of neighborhoods must be able to participate. And for our poorest neighborhoods, there are perhaps no better options for expression than radio. We need to provide public access to the airwaves to advance democracy and to promote social stability. We need to defend our legitimate rights to radio as our public property. And the poorest, most vulnerable among us need the unique benefits of radio as a simple survival tool. Community radio is essential to the economic health of our communities, and the right to profit off the public airwaves should not be reserved for the rich. And community radio advances culture, for the fundamental benefit of all.[2]

Radio’s role in the economic health of our communities is crucial; when radio thrived, main-street thrived, but many of us weren’t even born then. The war against the public square is almost identical to the war against locally-owned media outlets like radio. 2011 has been an especially great year for radio if you’re a member of the 1%; their occupation of the public airwaves has lead to the near absolute silencing of any voice (whether talk or music) not sanctioned by the corporate agenda. Don’t let them fool you—they wanted complete control of the radio, and did their best to make you think it wasn’t that important while they were stealing it.

Now, even Mike Malloy’s voice will no longer be heard on Bay Area radio. Why?

Not because he’s being replaced by local Oakland based programming, nor even because his ratings were lower than his conservative talk radio competitors—but Mitt Romney has something to do with it. According to a report by Brad Friedman, over at The Brad Blog:

The only progressive AM radio talk station, Green960-KKGN, in one of the nation’s most liberal cities, San Francisco, is being taken off the AM dial by radio behemoth Clear Channel Communications, Inc. — a media conglomerate now owned by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, LLC — at the beginning of the 2012 Presidential election year.

Adding insult to injury for progressives in the Bay Area, the 960 slot on the dial is being replaced by Clear Channel with the likes of Glenn Beck, Fox News Radio’s John Gibson and other radical Rightwing talkers. Clear Channel’s San Francisco Director of Operations Don Parker in a press release cites Clear Channel’s “goal of expanding talk radio in San Francisco. We saw the opportunity to expand our footprint in this crucial arena as we head into an election year and a population increasingly engaged in local, state, and national events and activism,”

The expansion will amount to moving Green960′s current schedule of progressive talk shows off the AM band, and on to FM’s HD2 radio ghetto where it will become a largely automated “robo-station,” according to several radio insiders familiar with the station and Clear Channel’s plans for it. The station which was formerly Green 960 will have the catchy new name “FM Progressive Talk 103.7-2″ at its new home, if listeners can find it.

The new Rightwing format taking its place on 960 will be known as KNEW, which is currently at 910 on the AM dial featuring a number of Fox News Radio programs. The 910 position will then be filled with a new talk format being developed by Clear Channel called “San Francisco’s Talk 910 KKSF,” which will also include some Fox News Radio veterans.”

Such market censorship has nothing to do with Malloy’s popularity. The “conventional” wisdom that popularity determines advertising revenue no longer applies in the post Telecommunications Act (1996) era when 4 conglomerates own all the commercial radio stations.[3] Even the station’s KNEW name suggests that knowledge itself must be past tense. The issue is control of content, as Randi Rhodes, at great risk to her career, points out. Only the large corporations can afford advertisements; the advertisements are often for things most listeners can’t afford, yet it’s worth the corporations money to buy them because it allows them control of content, especially on TV, but even radio ads are virtually prohibitive for small locally owned businesses. They’ve been working on it a long time.

When “Uncle Sam paid the Reagan debt by selling off the broadcast spectrum to the highest contract” with The Telecommunications Act of 1996, it “allowed a bevy of elite media corporations to ravage the airwaves with impunity, sweeping aside the remnants of local radio culture and replacing it with an endless stream of scientifically manufactured drivel to befuddle and distract the American people from their duties as citizens.“[4]

In 1998, FCC Chairman Michael Powell snidely flaunted his disregard for the democratic process when he said, “The night after I was sworn in, I waited for a visit from the angel of public interest. I waited all night, but she did not come. And, in fact, five months into this job, I still have had no divine awakening and no one has issued me my public interest crystal ball.”[5]  In fact, lobbyists for the large corporations stormed into the FCC offices, stole the crystal ball and shattered it, at our expense. As long as such “taxation without representation” is the norm on the corporately owned media, radio becomes, as Anderson puts it, mystified to the point where people forget that it is a public space.

From a corporate perspective, Green 960 and others like it were an experiment.

“Maybe we can allow progressive voices on the radio again as long as they are forced to read advertisements that contradict their ostensible message; they talk about how we need to restore the commons, but have to do advertisements for gold because ‘The dollar’s future’s baked into the cake’ (Hartmann) or stamps.com because ‘going to the post office is a hassle’ (Rhodes).” This way Clear Channel could still make its money, and still seem liberal enough on the surface to keep people’s attention diverted from their grand theft of the public airwaves.

The problem, from a corporate perspective, was that many of these progressive talk commentators did far better in any head-to-head contest with their conservative counterparts in the ratings war. They also were able to translate their influence into palpable electoral results in the 2006 and 2008 elections, despite being outnumbered roughly 100 to 1 on the national airwaves. Even when Air America went bankrupt (on the same day of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision), Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes and even Thom Hartmann were more popular than ever.[6]

Clearly, these progressive radio personalities are being denied access to the cultural means of production because they’re a threat to the one percent, yet the corporations are not entirely heartless. They’ve been stepping up the push for HD Radio as a new “upgrade” for a while. The Best Buy Ads for Insignia HD radio are everywhere now; and yes radio is still much cheaper than the computer. But people aren’t buying, and it’s not just because everybody’s broke and in debt (in part because they’re now hooked to more expensive computers for their news and music)—it’s because nobody sees much of a point; we’ve been given no reason to believe HD radio will provide better programming as long as the ownership is in the same remote-control hands.

None of the corporations are in a hurry to start local underground community music or talk programming on their HD stations.[7] Yet, if they force the most popular national talk show hosts onto this new format, maybe they can actually sell more of these HD Gadgets made with Chinese slave labor, and lure progressives away from the public airwaves that a lot of “swing voters” like to listen to on those long lonely nights on the highways they’re trying to privatize. The corporate conglomerates have had success with this before (for instance, letting “alternative” indie-rock in on the condition it helped people make the transition from LPS to CDs, and once consumers were hooked to the CD, go back to trickle-down pop music like in the 80s)–they win either way, even if HD radio dies a quick 8-track-player death.

The death of Progressive Talk Radio is a fitting end to a disastrous year in Bay Area radio for all but the 1%. At least progressive talk radio has been self-reflective about the buy outs, music radio has not been allowed such ‘luxury.’ The ongoing war against music radio is even more draconian, as formats change without advance warning, so listeners are forced into passive acceptance. January 18, 2011, the same day lobbyist-bought FCC “regulators” permitted Comcast to buy MSNBC, KUSF, the University of San Francisco’s award winning community oriented radio station, was illegally taken off the air by Entercom. Across the country, 2011 saw what remained of the once glorious independent national college music network get mostly sold off to the highest bidder.

The ongoing (if somewhat demoralized) SAVE KUSF and national SAVE COLLEGE RADIO movements need to join forces with the OCCUPY MOVEMENT, and the OCCUPY MOVEMENT needs to understand that these two struggles are the same.

It gets worse. In the Bay Area, 2011 saw the loss of its long-standing oldies station (KFRC, which had already been syndicated out to the True Oldies Station) and 1510 KPIG, the only two music stations on the AM-Commercial dial. Syndicated talk radio has already successfully taken over the AM dial, and is now making inroads into the FM dial, with their shakier, more fragile, signals. Pirate Cat Radio, which broadcast local music and news for a vast underserved demographic at 87.9 FM for most of the last decade was levied with heavy fines and met its demise. Even contemporary country station 95.7 The Wolf, was unceremoniously dumped in favor of The Bay Area’s First FM Sports Talk Station.

Sure, 95.7 was a corporate owned station, and played a well-regulated playlist of “contemporary country,” and thus not as aesthetically pleasing to me as KUSF; at least sometimes it had a rock and roll beat, or a tear-jerker pop ballad; and it was mostly contemporary. It was also very white, but the corporate-run contemporary black targeted stations were now playing the heightened roboticism of Auto-tunes, a device invented by Exxon and now used to “cover up” (like Corexit) any traces of the kind of “bad notes” that characterizes the best r&b or hip hop.

More profoundly, the struggle for the airwaves is not strictly a matter of “taste;” nor is the politics strictly in the content. It affects, directly or indirectly, virtually every aspect of our lives. Given music radio’s auspicious history in the 20th century as debatably the single most powerful agent of working class racial integration, which the 1% always felt threatened by, it’s not too difficult to see this War Against Music Radio as a form of state-sponsored terror[8] that parallels the corporate war on “progressive talk radio” and locally-owned radio stations, whether commercial or non-profit. Due, however, to the myth of “taste” and “niche marketing” when it comes to music, the plutocrats have been able to effect their occupation of the music industry largely under the radar, with no need to make their Goebbels-like regulations blatant.[9] In a December 2011 article “Farewell Black Radio,” Natalie Hopkinson writes:

for generations, black radio has been a driving force of black culture and politics, the modern day drum for communities of African descent as William Barlow explains in “Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio.”….I learned about the latest public service campaign against infant mortality, which disproportionately affected black people. I heard about anti-violence rallies taking place far from my suburban community. I mastered the art of taping hit singles by artists like Full Force, New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe off the radio…. Paul Porter of the media think tank Industry Ears, recently explained in his essay “Why Black Radio is So Damn Bad” on RapRehab.com that the community connection to black radio slowly began to unravel with the 1996 passage of the Telecommunications Act, which turned formerly black-owned stations into publicly traded commodities. The rise of syndication expanded the reach and influence of personalities such as Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, but muted local voices and news. Porter further explains:

“Black music has suffered a systematic demise and Black radio is a major compliance. The youth in America, get a steady diet of bitch, hoe and bling. The once undisputed music leader now follows the lead of the powerful recording industry. Commercial hip hop is the format of the lyrically challenged but the youth are too young to notice.”[10]

As Hopkinson, Barlow and Porter make clear, critiques of contemporary commercial hip hop artists like Jay-Z, whether coming from the black community or recent articles like Rapublicans,[11] miss the point. The issue is the illegal and immoral means by which content is seized by the 1% to disenfranchise the working class (and sell it as progress or at least a quick fix). For Hopkinson, the plethora of other choices, such as Pandora, iTunes and satellite radio do not compensate for the local rootedness radio once offered, in addition to still being a much more affordable option. As Brad Friedman puts it, “The Telecom Act was sold by legislators and lobbyists on the premise that it would increase competition in the market place. The net effect has been the exact opposite:” increased disenfranchisement and less diversity.

While some of these stations now broadcast Spanish, Chinese or serve other non English speaking populations, and thus invoke diversity, usually they broadcast as Spanish or Chinese version of Rush Limbaugh[12] as the owners sit in boardrooms contemplating how they can rid us of community stations like KPOO, which still provides almost the perfect balance between music and talk, local and international & entertainment and politics.

You could say I’m over-reacting. After all, “we still got KALX,” as many Bay Area musicians tell me, and KALX has been good to me, but the burden on KALX to represent the field of musical diversity that is excluded from the rest of the FM/AM dial has watered down its effectiveness as a purveyor of music that’s contemporary, independent, and local.[13] It was never intended to stand alone. My interest in mid-century locally owned commercial Top 40, country and R&B stations as well as the heyday of community and college radio stations later in the 20th century is primarily to look for precedents in considering ways the 99% can re-occupy the public airwaves, but we need to have a meeting (that’s also a kick-ass dance party and pillow fight) to consider other possibilities.

The ongoing SAVE KUSF and national SAVE COMMUNITY RADIO movements need to join forces with the OCCUPY MOVEMENT, and the OCCUPY MOVEMENT needs to understand that these two struggles are the same.

So, what is to be done? What can we do? Alas, like most of my creative friends, I am better at why than how. Of the proposals that have crossed my piano desk in the last year, I am especially intrigued by Tom Ness’s suggestion of a microradio “mass turn on:”

First, we need to convince Congress and the FCC to take this matter seriously. And that task is utterly enormous. We must convince Congress and the FCC that they simply have no choice but create a meaningful community radio service. This will be terribly difficult for them, for example, because ultimately it may require the most powerful interests to actually give up their spot on the dial in some cases. Certainly no one in Washington can imagine that today and that’s why they will only respond to this issue when our elected officials and public servants are convinced they have no other choice.

The question of how we might convince Washington to take this seriously leads directly to the matter of civil disobedience. I believe in the rule of law. I also believe in a regulated broadcast environment. Much to the dismay of my anarchist and libertarian friends I’m sure, let me say that I respect the authority of the FCC. Because without a regulated broadcast environment, I’m pretty sure that Westinghouse will build a gazillion-watt transmitter and an antenna that reaches to the moon, and when we turn on our radio we will hear nothing else. I believe that without a regulated environment, the poor and working class of this country will never have their turn at the microphone and a spot on the dial. So I respect the authority of the FCC, and believe that our task is that of convincing the agency to put a much higher priority on media democratization. I believe citizens are duty-bound to speak up, and lobby for change. And that’s precisely what we did with community radio between 1996 and 2000. But having exhausted every avenue and finding oneself still burdened with an unjust law, citizens are left with but one honorable option, and that is civil disobedience… Flipping the Switch as Last Resort: This won’t work if it is merely a bluff. So at some point, we may have to decide that this is it, and on a certain day or week, we are all going on the air together.

Ness’s proposal of effective civil disobedience was presented to an audience of disenfranchised radio folks (many who had been professional DJS before the Telecommunication Act, but were now trying to unite in the cause of LPFM community radio stations), but this is not simply “Pirate radio as an end in itself.” The threat of jamming, or occupying, the airwaves is a means to negotiation with the FCC. “Underground” is a legal, not moral status; he would rather be legal. Just as OWS’s main demand is the repeal of corporate personhood, and getting money, big and small, out of politics, Ness has a central demand, from which all else follow: “The presumption of license renewal must go. I’m rather certain of that, regardless of how ridiculous it sounds to some. If the FCC approaches even just one of the corporations in a city, and politely insist they surrender the license of just one of their massive stations which covers our entire region, even just one will make room for dozens of small stations.”[i]

In the meantime, Ness is open to compromise positions:

One possibility is that the FCC might carve out an entirely new portion of the spectrum for community radio. This will be painful because spectrum is already scarce and subject to enormous competition. And then of course, we will all need new radios which can receive that part of the spectrum. All very, very difficult but on the other hand, people happily bought FM radios the last time a major change like this occurred. Another option I’ve heard is for the FCC to mandate that radio manufacturers produce receivers of much more exacting standards, capable of defining many more signals in the same given amount of spectrum. Again, this would mean that listeners would need a new, more modern radio.

Of course, even these proposals will be met with resistance by Big Media, because their power derives from the control of the finite broadcast spectrum. HD Radio, for instance, in theory, does exactly what Ness calls for, but as long as these “adjunct” stations are controlled by the same de-regulated media conglomerates, we still need to come up with strategies and tactics to make our voices heard. So here’s a possible DEMAND for OWS to consider at the July 4, 2012 conference in Philly:

The primary legislative demand of Occupy Radio is immediate reinstatement of the regulations that forbid outside owners from owning more than 2 radio stations in any given market, as well as other anti-trust regulations abolished by the Telecomm Act. Such re-regulation would immediately create more jobs in radio broadcasting, since stations that are largely automated now will be required to hire radio personalities in their communities. It will re-establish radio as two way form of communication, in which local listeners had some say in their programming, and make radio programmers more responsible to their listeners than what Clearchannel HQ demands. It will allow small-businesses an arena in which to advertise currently denied by the anti-democratic and even anti-capitalist plutocrats, and marshal the productive forces of the currently large population of high-quality unemployed and underemployed musicians, entertainers, artists and ‘culture workers’ to the service of the community, boosting morale, lowering crime and recreating the artistic middle class that grew under FDR and Ike and has been abandoned since at least Reagan.

And here’s a possible demand for Occupy Oakland (or insert your city, village, or rural county here):

We demand, at the very least, the reclamation by the City of Oakland of at least 2 radio stations from the monopolistic thieves who have robbed us of jobs, a tax-base, a grass-roots culture, economy and even civic pride. In this decolonization proposal, one of the stations will be more mainstream, reform-oriented, and commercial–highlighting local programming from the wide spectrum of Oakland residents & locally owned businesses. No national outside conglomerates will be allowed to advertise or buy sponsorships on this station. If that sounds draconian, remember they have every other station. Costs of advertising will be adjusted (deflated) to be affordable to the advertising budgets of locally owned businesses.[14]The station can be run as a public/private partnership with full transparency and accountability. The key is for the station to develop what Thurston Moore calls “a great neutrality,” without getting too big. Government will not determine programming, but will only intervene to protect it from corporate predators.

The second station could be much more revolutionary, more like the existing non-commercial 10 watt radio stations, the last vestiges of independent radio that are being gobbled up. Call it KOWS, or WOWS if you want; Laney College could use one that’s not mere podcast. While such stations, as outlined above, have been absolutely crucial for the formation of sustainable local cultures (from musicians, stand-up comics, and even urban planners) since the early 1980s, it’s important to remember that their autonomy came with the price of being non-commercial, which decreased their effectiveness as sustainable forces when the high hospital bills, for instance, came in. So-called “college radio” itself was a compromise position, and while I lament its loss, we must demand more than its return to achieve the ends of democracy.

If the city of Oakland used what little muscle it has left to stand up against Entercom, Clearchannel and the like, and invoke federal regulations still on the book, that long atrophied muscle will grow; the mayor would have the support of the vast majority of the 99%. Let the corporations sue—we have your back. We may not have money, but we got numbers and are willing to work. Lawyer’s fees are less costly and divisive than the teargas taxes you’ve wasted. Many might even feel okay about paying a parking ticket if the city actually gives something back. We need a city at least open to radical possibilities—air the debate out; any transparent good faith proposals are welcome.

Thus far, however, Mayor Jean Quan claiming that she has “been supportive” of the occupy movement is an example of hypocrisy worthy of the lower rungs of Dante’s Inferno. Quan has been as deaf to reasoned proposals to Occupy Radio as she is to Russell Quan, the drummer from the Mummies and other local bands frozen out from the corporate media. Still, at least rhetorically, we can appeal to the city.[15] Some of us are willing to compromise, and understand how reform may be more radical than mere revolution. Radio won’t disturb your curfew…

The Mayor and City Council might do well to remember the origins of Radio itself as a compromise between business and labor. Business benefitted by the increased commodification of music, and labor benefited by the regulated environment in which local ownership created as many jobs as the new format of radio had robbed from pre-electric live entertainment culture on the streets. The city benefitted by radio’s seductive ability to decrease night-life street culture, but as long as radio was locally owned, musicians had more friends in the government than we do today: there was more locale culture and less crime.

So, here’s one final demand to the Mayor and City Council of (insert radio market here) to supplement, not replace, the demand for the locally owned radio stations:

We demand that the City of Oakland explicitly prohibit places of business open to the public, especially retail businesses that are not owned locally (and who have received unfair incentives to undersell and buy out locally owned businesses) to play canned music not made locally without first considering all the options for locally grown live in store performances.[16] This would not only save the businesses money, and boost worker’s morale (the workers would have the choice of what music they’re forced to listen to while working), but also rejuvenate Oakland’s tax base, especially given the city’s notorious lack of viable, legally sanctioned live venues for music. It would establish better relations, and heal wounds, between the city, its citizens and small business by restoring a commons and give Oakland a positive cultural export. I, for one, am less worried about the fairness of the taste of a cashier or clerk than I am of the corporate “music” pushers and their undercompensated focus groups.

Yet, as one fed up with the city’s lack of support, and even actively undermining any attempt to form a true commercially viable cultural export in the decade I’ve lived here, we should unite in occupying indoor and outdoor public spaces for dance crazes, pick up truck tours (and when we start making money, we’ll give back to the city in taxes, which is more than can be said for Kaiser Permanente). In the spirit of civil disobedience, but also in the spirit of fun:

Musicians & Stand Up Comics Unite! (For Peter Ivers) 

Musicians and other culture workers don’t “unite” like they used to back in the days of the middle class. The 1% did a damn good job of changing the meaning of “indie” to “every band for themselves.” Even the President astutely points out to teenagers, “you’re probably not going to be L’il Wayne,” but instead of enjoining young rappers to unionize, Obama, like Clinton before him, rather tries to usher them into technology, with disastrous results. Because the vast majority of great live local musicians are cut out from the increasingly monopolized corporate channels, and the banks aren’t offering loans to small locally based labels or venues, music has increasingly become an “in the red” proposition for most unless of course you happen to have come from upper-middle class (or upper-upper), or are more left-brained than right-brained.

Coupled with increased gas prices, tours that only a few years ago were at least breaking even are now a losing proposition. No wonder college radio has been so colonized by the corporate labels: a war against music? Nah, it’s just not that important anymore….right? Hell, even many of best musicians accept it, as they play their oldies instead of each other, but we don’t have to like each other’s music to be played on the same station of form a diverse, yet locally grounded small MP3 singles-label.

If we can’t have the radio, we have to take to the streets as unionized laborers and demand our rights. On an unspecified date in 2012 (why should we give it away?) we will be forced to occupy, en mass, these colonizing businesses, such as Wallgreens, Burger King, Safeway, The Gap, Whole Foods, etc. We will take to the streets peacefully like the second line parades of old New Orleans, and the drums of Congo Square that most American musicologists agree was the birthplace of any American music of worth in the last century. We will be organized to accommodate the widest possible range of music taste. A classical pianist may occupy the part of the mall with the piano store for instance.

Each of these musicians should be able to at least get one song finished before being arrested. And if we get arrested, we will peacefully go—but the arrest will be on tape or digital live-stream and the world is watching, and maybe even acting, with us. So, musicians and culture jammers, you better make it good. This is your audition! After all, a revolution is nothing if it can’t also pass for a business plan, and music is activism. As Czech dissident Josef Skvorecky wrote in 1977:

when the lives of individuals and communities are controlled by powers that themselves remain uncontrolled–slavers, czars, fuehrers, first secretaries, marshalls, generals and generalisimos, ideologists of dictatorships of either end of the spectrum–then creative energy becomes a protest.”

We only need add “corporate persons” to that list to update it for America. The goal is to bring back the human, face-to-face, interaction; letting the city be a city again, decriminalizing locally based culture by decolonizing the outside corporate influence that has flattened out local differences in ways at least as destructive as  McDonald’s and kept us separated and not equal, and to foster a trickle up culture and economy that has been systematically destroyed by the 1% in the last 30-40 years.

These are but a few modest proposals that are important to begin debating now.

I don’t think it won’t thin out the resources of Occupy Wall Street, since it can bring new people currently skeptical of the movement in, nor do I think it needlessly “politicizes” the KUSF movement. To conclude, this is why the ongoing SAVE KUSF and national SAVE COMMUNITY RADIO movements need to join forces with the OCCUPY MOVEMENT, and the OCCUPY MOVEMENT needs to understand that these two struggles are the same. As Tom Ness puts it, the quality and authenticity of our democracy might well be measured by how many are allowed to use the microphone, instead of only the headphones.

Chris Stroffolino, Occupy Radio

PS–(In the decade I’ve lived in The Bay Area, I have tried whatever means necessary to make a dent in the colonization of Oakland by the LA based industry, but given Quan’s increasing crackdowns, I know many of the best artists are giving up and even considering to move to LA, where at least they passed a resolution banning corporate personhood. It’s a sad day when The Bay Area becomes more placeless than even LA! As Beme The Rapper says, Fuck Oakland. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpS_1Y6mOME. He has way better tracks than this, give him a chance, Quan! Okay, My piano is saying “me thinks thou dost protest too much” or would be if I could afford one!)


[2] Tom Ness, “Give Me Pirate Radio”–Michigan Music is World Class Campaign; If you would like a copy of the full text, simply Tom and he’ll be happy to send a copy your way.

[3]  media goliaths like Clear Channel were allowed to buy up multiple, often competing stations in the same market and allowed leases by the FCC for multiple frequencies on our publicly-owned airwaves in each city.

[4] FM’s HD2 radio ghetto

[5] Frank, Wrecking Crew, 263, 277, 347

[6] Green 960 was compromised, and its tag-line, “Occupying The Airwaves” was hard to take seriously with all the financial industry ads, yet even the superb San Francisco Black Nationalist Newspaper has to have a full page AT&T ad to stay afloat as a free newspaper. One need not trust AT&Ts motives to be glad that Bay View is back “by any means necessary” speaking its rarely heard truths. How else can these strong personalities get their message out especially given a “leaderless movement’s” conflation of “leader” with “spokespeople.”

[7] And even Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is far enough from the corridors of power so she couldn’t offer Occupy Oakland an HD Radio Frequency even if she wanted.

[8] see my radio survivor history piece

[9] Josef Skvorecky, Red Music contains a list of these regulations; the parallels are alarming.

[10] “Farewell Black Radio,”Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington writer and author of the forthcoming “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/therootdc (emphasis added)

[11] Rapublicans, Rotate Stock For Freshness.com (August 2011)

[12] though at least Mexican music radio utilizes old-school acoustic instruments like Tuba

[13] KALX plays less contemporary music than it did 10 and especially 20 years ago; it’s sense of “alternative” ultimately comes more from major labels and magazines like Pitchfork than the local community. It’s not that the quality of the music has necessarily suffered, just the integral connection to the community.

[14] Thus, earning its role in the public interest as both a job creator and local morale booster alternative to the ineffective and exclusionary “thrive” campaign by Big Wellness.

[15] Sorry, I just don’t see the point in total destruction of the city (though I reserve the right to sing and play songs about it).

[16] This can apply equally to all cultural fields included in the WPA’s Federal Project One; for instance, these businesses will also be forbidden from placing prefarb “art”—often not even made in America by slave labor without considering the local artists who have better things to do than sit around waiting for the magic wand of the 1% to discover them.


[i] There are, in this country, companies which have essentially owned their spot on the dial for decades now, and will continue doing so presumably for eternity. It is as if they’ve reserved a lane of the public highway for their own use. This is because the FCC has a policy which presumes automatic license renewal, barring any unforgivable act. This doctrine exists in respect to those corporations which spend millions setting up their station. And surely it is not realistic to grant say, a one-year license after a company has made that kind of investment. But as it stands today, if you are lucky enough to grab a spot on the dial, it is presumed to be yours forever. And keeping in mind the scandalous amount of money generated off of our public airwaves, I simply find this unacceptable! I’d guess that anyone who’s been lucky enough to profit off the public airwaves for, in some cases, 70 years now, ought to be plenty grateful and rather polite about giving up their license so someone else might have a turn. And I hope you also find this to be reasonable attitude. But such talk is considered pure heresy in Washington. But frankly, I don’t understand how our democracy can ever function without precisely this fundamental reform.—Ness



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12 Responses to Occupy Radio! Why Save KUSF, Occupy Wall Street, and Decolonize Oakland need to coordinate

  1. klewis December 23, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Great article, Chris. It’s a lot to take in at first pass, so I apologize for not getting to all the points in this response.

    As you know, Jennifer Waits reported yesterday on Public Radio Capital (PRC)/Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN) making headway in the South Bay with the proposed transfer of the 16.5 watt translator that now allows KDFC to be heard “booming” into the South Bay. One local engineer has suggested this means:

    ” … We can see the formation of a radio network taking shape. By moving KUSF 90.3 FM out of the city where its antenna will have a commanding view of the peninsula, we can assume the next step would be to make upgrades to K212AA. This would include but not be limited to increasing from 16 watts to 250 watts and moving the repeater higher causing trouble to KSJS San Jose State and squashing Stanford’s 90.1 FM from the north and the south. With 89.9 KNDL having one of the highest elevations in northern California its signal somewhat penetrates the highway 280 corridor. What remains obvious is that KDFC still needs to buy one of the following stations KCSM/KFJC/KSJS/KOHL/KZSU/KKUP to complete the South Bay (coverage.)”

    After being bogged down in the details of this transaction, it’s inspiring to be reminded of the broader impact to the Bay Area and what’s truly at stake. The recent KUSF/KNDL/KUSP transactions are just one part of CPRN/PRC’s statewide footprint, which now includes a network of stations from San Diego and LA, to SLO and now — SF and Napa. Corporations manipulating the FCC rules and regulations for profit continue to position themselves as the antidote to religious broadcasters — while choking out locally-made radio — without regard for the impact on the public to whom the airwaves belong.

    Before being bumped down the dial to 90.3FM, KDFC was top 7 in the January’s Arbitron ratings. They provided an affordable, unique channel for local small businesses reach their customers (as did KUSF) and were the last commercial classical station in a major market. The move not only impacts these businesses and the listeners, but also the cultural landscape in the Bay Area. KUSF was home to a dozen languages of cultural programming which included news and education that helped people become citizens and taxpayers. It also banded together the isolated microcosms of SF in an inimitable way. The loss is immeasurable. This also raises serious questions about how this has happened all over the country — to every commercial classical station moved to the left of the dial to target wealthy donors – without consideration of the programming diversity which the FCC is responsible to protect.

    Like in the Occupy movement, a national network is growing out of the struggle to Save KUSF. We were able to respond quickly on day one b/c KTRU immediately jumped in to help us get organized and navigate the complex process of mounting a case with the FCC. Since then we have worked closely with other imperiled stations such as: WRVU (Vanderbilt), BSR (Brown), and WDUQ (Duquesne University). We’ve found connections to Public Radio Capital in most of the current transactions. We’ve shown that FCC rules and protections have been trampled upon, but it remains an arduous uphill battle. This is in large part because the FCC makes rules to protect the local public interest, but as Ness’ argument points out — they also create loopholes by assuming good intentions and by not making new rules as a result of new threats.

    I was especially interested in the points about license transfers being rubber stamped. In my opinion, this parallels issues of enforcement. Somehow the FCC is able to enforce their rules on Pirate and LPFM stations with harsh and regularly imposed penalties for those that break them. Why is it impossible to create a working infrastructure that honors the intent of the NCE protections?

    It comes as a surprise to many that there are non-religious aspects of the controversial Rulemaking Petition RM-2493 filed by Lorenzo Milam. It contains clear arguments against multiple ownership which anticipate some of the current issues. And, perhaps most importantly — the FCC’s own decision in the matter speaks to rule making being preferable to “ad hoc adjudications” “because individuals should not have to follow the route of filing petitions to deny against stations thought to be falling short of their obligations in order to obtain rectification of this situation.” My sense is that new rules are exactly what’s needed, before more taxpayer dollars are wasted allowing the existent ones to be bypassed as the norm, on a burdensome, case-by-case basis.

    Two additional aspects of license transfers confound me as a layperson, are 1.) the ability to confer educational qualifications beyond an institution’s local community and 2.) not holding transferred licenses to the same point-based standards as the FCC uses in granting new licenses.

    All of which is to say, that articles like this are critical. I hope it inspires more people to work together to wrap their minds around the scope of these issues — the negative implications of which, the loss of KUSF is just one sad example. These airwaves are public. Universities once willing to partner with local communities to act as their stewards are now selling them off to the highest bidder, although most paid very little for the licenses to begin with. This loss of public media access is not something that will be corrected after the fact. The rule is that “public stations are not operated by profit-seeking organizations.” The FCC must be called upon to put a stop to those who fail to meet this standard.

    For reader’s interested in an overview of the current NCE rules, this site offers a good overview: http://tinyurl.com/ncerules.

    For those interested in joining the broader conversation, a FB page called College Radio United can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/collegeradiounited

    Thanks again for this thoughtful coverage.

  2. shekky December 23, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    i beg to differ with your statement that saveKUSF is “somewhat demoralized”. how and where did you get that information?

  3. Chris Stroffolino December 23, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Dj Shekky—Thank you for your comment. I will delete the “somewhat demoralized” from the next version of the piece. I apologize for that. I’m glad the fight is continuing. I’m just trying to rally more people, as I know many great musicians I met THROUGH hearing them on KUSF who are fatalistic about it, and I was just trying to rally more people.

  4. klewis December 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    12/23 | Wall Street Journal | FCC Aims to Ease Media Rule:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204464404577114522529812442.html

  5. Ron Callari December 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Songwriter bwaySteve’s song “99 Percenter” recently interviewed by CBS News combines the angst of the past with the present – a unique perspective thru the lens of a 60s protester… http://inventorspot.com/articles/portrait_60s_protester_adds_perspective_occupy_movement_song

  6. Chris Stroffolino December 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Hey Ron—cool, feel free to send any more occupy songs—maybe we can make a comp, or broadcast a show of “occupy-related” songs & stuff for KUSF-IN-EXILE. Here’s one I did with members of Gris Gris, Flipper, and Gauntanamo School of Medicine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMP7BQN2YBw

  7. shekky December 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    thanks, chris. we’re all part of one big family and many of us have been friends for a loooong time. we might have our differences but when it comes right down to it, we’re on the same page and working towards the same goals and will fight light rabid honey badgers to protect what’s ours…

  8. Matthew Lasar December 24, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    “Rabid honey badgers” . . . . geez, I ain’t messing with you guys. :)

  9. FreedomOfInformationAct January 6, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Clear channel violates FEC and FCC regulations, switching sole liberal station in bay area to neoconservatist propaganda machine!

    http://www.sfbg.com/bruce/2012/01/04/what-glenn-beck-strephanie-miller-green-960

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/green-960-glenn-beck_n_1186764.html

    http://www.bradblog.com/?p=8994

    http://www.bradblog.com/?p=9024

  10. Chris Stroffolino January 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    thank you for writing (Freedom of Information Act)

  11. gaolering December 23, 2012 at 9:04 am #

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  12. Chris Stroffolino December 27, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Thank you Myron Flowers! I wrote this essay almost exactly a year ago. It’s amazing to think that it was only a year ago when it seemed like Occupy would become a greater movement, and link up with many of the other issues that are all connected. I find myself solitary as an “I” right now, groping for new solutions–the SAVE KUSF movement still continues, but we definitely need to find ways to get more visibility, which is difficult because Entercom, etc. knows that visibility (or audibility) is exactly what the fight’s about: yep, shut up the people until they turn on themselves…..Ah, come on what will 2013 bring….

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