This is a pamphlet written to be reproduced and shared with anyone who is thinking of starting or is operating a Micro Radio station. This is a must read for anyone involved in LPFM.

What To Do When The FCC Knocks On Your Door

Produced by the Committee on Democratic Communications
A National Committee of the National Lawyers Guild

Committee on Democratic Communications
558 Capp Street
San Francisco, CA, 94110, (415) 522-9814
Peter Franck, Attorney @ Law
Intellectual Property, Cultural and Constitutional Rights
Franck Law Offices


Let a thousand transmitters bloom

by Stephen Dunifer, Free Radio Berkeley

Using inexpensive hand-built transmitters, micro-power broadcasters such as Free Radio Berkeley and Black Liberation Radio in Springfield, IL, are challenging the information stranglehold imposed by the corporate media and enforced by federal regulation. Micro-radio is a First Amendment challenge to restrictive federal regulations which only favor those with money and power.

Most communities are denied their own voice. Unless one has at least $50,000 to start a 100 watt FM station, there is no way any community without those resources can have a voice. Before 1980 it was possible to apply for and receive a 10 watt Class D educational station license with very little money in the bank. Thanks to an alliance of reactionary elements, who sought to suppress voices outside the mainstream, and liberal elements such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR), who sought to establish more "professional" stations (translation: more likely to be funded by corporate blood money laundered through foundations), the FCC eliminated all 10 watt station licenses as of 1980. This move prevented the 90% of the U.S. population who do not have the monetary resources from having a voice on the FM band; especially African Americans who are underrepresented in the media by 600%.

If the airwaves were not dominated by the corporate media pirates, there would be plenty of FM radio spectrum space available for all to use. Even in the congested Bay Area FM radio spectrum, there are quite a number of frequencies that would be appropriate for low power (.5 to 10 watts) community broadcast operations. Unfortunately, like so many other public resources such as old growth forests, the air waves have been hijacked and polluted by the corporate state in its relentless pursuit of profit and control of all public resources.

In response, there is a growing movement of individuals and communities who have set up micro-power (.5 to 10 watts) broadcasting operations. Most notable of these is Black Liberation Radio, which covers a housing project area in Illinois. Black Liberation Radio has been under severe attack by both the local police and federal agencies. Despite police and federal harassment, Black Liberation Radio is on 24 hours a day offering some of the finest programs to be found anywhere on almost no budget.

Frightened by this growing movement, the FCC comes knocking at doors, slapping fines ranging anywhere from $750 to $20,000. This booklet is to help you deal with the FCC's tactics to stifle our right to communicate with each other.

Just imagine the possibilities of having hundreds of micro-power broadcasts like this across the country. Cost is not a problem since a basic station can be put on the air for less than $200. Soon, an inexpensive UHF TV transmitter design will be available as well. With determination and purpose we can break the stranglehold on the flow of cultural and artistic expression information and ideas in this country.

Note: The following discussion assumes that you are not a licensed broadcaster.

Q) If FCC agents knock on my door and say they want to talk with me, do I have to answer their questions?

A: No. You have a right to say that you want a lawyer present when and if you speak with them, and that if they will give you their names, you will be back in touch with them. Unless you have been licensed to broadcast, the FCC has no right to "inspect" your home.

Q) If they say they have a right to enter my house without a warrant to see if I have broadcasting equipment, do I have to let them in?

A: No. Under Section 303(n) of Title 47 U.S.C., the FCC has a right to inspect any transmitting devices that must be licensed under the Act. Nonetheless, they must have permission to enter your home, or some other basis for entering beyond their mere supervisorial powers. With proper notice, they do have a right to inspect your communications devices. If they have given you notice of a pending investigation, contact a lawyer immediately.

Q) If they have evidence that I am "illegally" broadcasting from my home, can they enter anyway, even without a warrant or without my permission?

A: They will have to go to court to obtain a warrant to enter your home. But, if they have probable cause to believe you are currently engaging in illegal activities of any sort, they, with the assistance of the local police, can enter your home without a warrant to prevent those activities from continuing. Basically, they need either a warrant, or probable cause to believe a crime is going on at the time they are entering your home.

Q) If I do not cooperate with their investigation, and they threaten to arrest me, or have me arrested, should I cooperate with them?

A: If they have a legal basis for arresting you, it is very likely that they will prosecute you regardless of what you say. Therefore, what you say will only assist them in making a stronger case against you. Do not speak to them without a lawyer there.

Q) If they have an arrest or a search warrant, should I let them in my house?

A: Yes. Give them your name and address, and tell them that you want to have your lawyer contacted immediately before you answer any more questions. If you are arrested, you have a right to make several telephone calls within 3 hours of booking.

Q) Other than an FCC fine for engaging in illegal transmissions, what other risks do I take in engaging in micro-radio broadcasts.

A: Section 501 of the Act provides that violations of the Act can result in the imposition of a $10,000 fine or by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both. A second conviction results in a potentially longer sentence. If you are prosecuted under this section of the Act, and you are indigent (unable to hire an attorney), the court will have to appoint one for you.

Q) Are there any other penalties that can be imposed upon me for "illegal broadcasts."

A: Under Section 510 of the Act, the FCC can attempt to have your communicating equipment seized and forfeited for violation of the requirements set forth in the Act. Once again, if they attempt to do this, you will be given notice of action against you, and have an opportunity to appear in court to fight the FCC's proposed action. Realize, though, that they will try to keep your equipment and any other property they can justify retaining until the proceedings are completed. You have a right to seek return of your property from the court at any time.

Q) If the FCC agents ask me if I knew I was engaged in illegal activities, should I deny any knowledge of FCC laws or any illegal activities?

A: No. You will have plenty of time to answer their accusations after you have spoken with an attorney. It is a separate crime to lie to law enforcement officials about material facts. Remain silent.

Q) If I am considering broadcasting over micro-radio, is there anything I can do ahead of time to minimize the liklihood of prosecution?

A: Yes. Speak with an attorney before you are approached by law enforcement to discuss the different aspects of FCC law. Arrange ahead of time for someone to represent you when and if the situation arises, so that you will already have prepared a strategy of defense.

Q) What can I do if the FCC agents try to harass me by going to my landlord, or some other source to apply pressure on me?

A: So long as there is no proof that you have violated the law, you cannot be prosecuted or evicted. If there is evidence of misconduct, you might have to defend yourself in court. Depending upon what the FCC said or did, you might be able to raise a defense involving selective prosecution or other equivalent argument. If the conduct of the agents is clearly harassment, rather than a proper investigation, you can file a complaint with the F.C.C. or possibly a civil action against them.

Q) If I want to legally pursue FCC licensing for a new FM station, what should I do?

A: It isn't the purpose of this Q and A sheet to advocate or discourage non-licensed broadcast operations. A person cited by the FCC for illegal broadcasting will find it virtually impossible to later obtain permission to get a license. If you want to pursue the licensing procedure, see the procedures set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Part 73. The application form (Form # 301 A) is extremely complicated, and requires a filing fee of $2,030.00. If you want to contact the FCC directly, call them at their Consumer Assistance and Small Business Division, Room 254, 1919 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20554, tel (202) 632-7260 [editors note: this address is outdated. For current information visit the Mass Media Bureau website.] Don't bother to try this without significant financial backing.

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