Berkeley Liberation Radio Raided - December 11th, 2003
Agents of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), accompanied by about a dozen armed U.S. marshals in full SWAT team regalia, raided Berkeley Liberation Radio (BLR — 104.1-FM) December 11. This was to serve a *sealed* arrest warrant on our equipment (not on our programmers — so far). They carted off our transmitter and associated gear, antenna, CD players, tape machines, turntables, computer, etc., all of which took years to accumulate. The FCC stated we were in violation of the law, as we had no license to broadcast at that frequency. At the time that BLR began broadcasting, there was no license class available for BLR's low power transmission. BLR broadcasts 40 watts of power that nicely fit within a small opening in the FM dial and reaches a few miles from the transmitter to serve the local community. Obtaining an FCC license would have required a higher powered transmitter that would have served a different purpose/community (and also required additional thousands of dollars in fees and testing data — beyond the means of a truly community based radio station.)
The new LPFM (low powered FM) licensing class that is now offered by the FCC (in response to the pressure from activists and unlicensed broadcasters such as BLR) was gutted by the National Public Radio and National Association Of Broadcasters lobbied Congress before any new stations hit the airwaves. Congress amended the new LPFM law so that stations could be licensed only if there was an unused gap in the FM dial roughly the size of a Cadillac, or in other words only in a situation that will arise in your average deep south rural town.
Despite the raid, as of press time, BLR is Back On The Air with a different transmitter. BLR has voted to begin broadcasts over the internet. Should the FCC return to seize the new transmitter, internet broadcasts would likely continue, which could begin a cat and mouse game with the FCC, as numerous people not associated with BLR picked up the internet feed and rebroadcast it with their own transmitters from shifting locations.
BLR, which took over 104.1 FM from Free Radio Berkeley which was shut down by an FCC injunction in 1998, has broadcast news and commentary as well as music and spoken word for three years. The station gives youth and others not usually represented in corporate media a chance to learn radio broadcasting skills, to exercise their rights to free speech and discuss issues of community interest.
At the time of the raid, BLR’s lawyers were in communication with the FCC about the pending licensing matter. Thus the sudden raid appears to be part of the new climate of repression of civil liberties that is accompanying the recent rush to war. In such times, it is more vital than ever to preserve every citizen's right to free speech and inquiry and to keep all channels of communication open.