Although “pirate” radio activists and broadcasters — who defy FCC licensing procedures under the flag of civil disobedience and a desire to get on the air — were the primary movers in advancing the cause of low-power radio, they generally haven’t benefited from the law.
The FCC prohibited pirate stations from applying for low-power licenses as long as they were still broadcasting illegally. But mistrust of the federal agency and doubts that it could enforce existing laws led many such stations — including Free Radio Asheville, now in its fifth year — to eschew the low-power FM licenses and simply keep broadcasting.
“Koolwip” (who uses a nickname to avoid prosecution by the Federal Communications Commission) has been a member of the Free Radio Asheville collective since he was 14. The FCC investigated the station in the wake of a May 13, 1998 Xpress cover story.
The station, which broadcasts at 107.5 FM, delivers more than 50 hours of programming per week during evening hours. Members of the collective, said Koolwip, are considering working with either MAIN or the ERC, though they also plan to continue to broadcast.
“We decided that no matter what happened, we were going to remain on the air,” he said. “[But] we’re going to open communication [with] the low-power FM stations.”
When asked whether Free Radio Asheville should even be on the air now that the FCC has made allowance for low-power stations, Koolwip said he believes the airwaves are still not open enough.
“The more alternatives the better. I think [radio] is a great medium, and it’s not utilized enough,” he said. “There’s definitely enough space. If you turn the radio dial in Asheville, you come across a lot of dead air.”
And even if the station could get a license — which would also require filing for nonprofit status — many Free Radio Asheville members oppose the move, Koolwip reports.
“There’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape,” he said. “The low-power licensing legislation is being gutted out. As far as I know, they pretty much stopped issuing licenses. It gets people feeling like it’s a waste of time to wait around for a license when you can get on the air right now.”
Nonetheless, Koolwip said he and other FRA members are looking forward to working with the new low-power stations.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how it shapes out to be,” he observed. “It will definitely be positive. It seems like any kind of local programming or alternative to what we have now is a great thing.”
At the same time, Koolwip said he doesn’t see Free Radio Asheville being absorbed into the new stations.
“We’re going to continue being alternative to [them],” he vows. “If there’s anything we feel that’s necessary to talk about or criticize, we’ll do so. We’re ready to keep going for as long as it takes for us to achieve our goal in educating and bringing voices to the community.”