Rebel Radio

The Lower East Side's Pirate Station, Steal This Radio, Joins the Fight Against the Feds

That the FCC is considering such notions is a major signal of a possible breakthrough for micropower. The movement is seeing other positive developments, as well. The mainstream press seems to have taken up the pirates' cause, widely portraying them as free-speech underdogs. And the corporate efforts to clamp down seem only to be backfiring. On April 15, when STR tripped its transmitter in the financial district, it was joined in its act of defiance by Free Radio Iowa City, Free Radio Bob in Milwaukee, along with 87X and the Party Pirate in Tampa--all of which were forced off the air by the FCC in the recent months.

With all that grassroots pressure, experts believe that the commercial industry will have to concede something. ''I think the FCC and the NAB realize they're in a no-win situation if they just keep trying to blow people off the air,'' says Robert McChesney, author of Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy. ''They understand that this is a tide that can't be stopped. So the smart thing is to establish some sort of orderly system whereby the microbroadcasters won't interfere with the big corporations' ability to make money.''

Such an endgame would allow microstations like STR to flourish and concentrate on their true goal: re-creating community. That's a role that's become increasingly important in places like New York City, where people's rights to parks, gardens, and other forms of public space are under attack. The Internet has already made strides in this area; the more-human communication of a voice on the airwaves can go even further. ''One of the most beautiful things about Steal This Radio is the way it's brought together so many different elements of the Lower East Side's culture,'' says DJ Chrome. ''We've got hiphop kids talking to folks from the radical Puerto Rican poetry scene, and East Village rockers talking to gardeners and squatters, and Sister Sheba from the Black Community News Service. All of these people are now allies, and they all represent different constituencies, and they all bring their listeners with them. The chemistry is really beautiful. People start to relate to each other instead of being alienated as different cultural subsets.''

Stay tuned.

A benefit party to raise money for STR's legal battle with the FCC will be held at Charas/El Bohio (360 East 10th Street) on May 16 at 7:30. For information, please call 358-5774.

Radio Free New York

Inside a south Williamsburg loft, several musicians have assembled with horns, maracas, kazoos, and a toy xylophone. ''We're trying to demystify the radio process,'' says DJ Dizzy of Free 103.9 FM, Brooklyn's mobile pirate station, which broadcasts live performances from friends' apartments and local venues. ''The fact is, anyone who wants to hook up a transmitter in their living room and start broadcasting can do it.'' Tonight's mission is to score a film by Dizzy's friend, Mr. E. The station's half-extended antenna leans against the front window, giving the night's broadcast a range not much further than the bathroom down the hall.

Of course not all Free 103 shows are so slack. Last Memorial Day, it broadcast a DJ battle on top of the Willamsburg Bridge, and on Saturday it aired a live performance by jazz legend William Parker and his quartet, Other Dimensions of Music, from an undisclosed location in Park Slope.

Free 103 is part of a rich pirate tradition in New York City, dating back to Radio Free Harlem of the late '60s and the infamous Radio New York International, which broadcast on a pirate ship off the coast of Long Island in 1987 and 1988 before the Coast Guard shut it down. While tougher enforcement has scared off the dozens of hobbyists and hacks who roamed NYC's airwaves in the late '70s end early '80s, there are probably a dozen unlicensed stations broadcasting in the five boroughs today.

Most are Haitian stations operating in Brooklyn, including Radio Bonne Nouvelle (which has been at 88.1 FM for nearly 10 years), Radio Ideal, Radio Combite, and Radio Intercontinental at 88.9. There's also BAD radio, which broadcasts underground hiphop on Sunday nights from 5 to 11 p.m. at 91.9 FM, and Dr. X in Queens, who reportedly moves around the dial and rents out airspace to local DJs.

Meanwhile, Radiac, an artsy Williamsburg station named after a local nuclear storage facility, has gone back on air sporadically after being scared off by an FCC visit last summer. And stay tuned for a new community station in East Harlem, and Radio Sol, New York's first solar-powered station, which plans to fire up in the South Bronx next month. --S.F.

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