Radio station returns to airwaves without license

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(Host) In Brattleboro, a radio station shut down by the Federal Communications Commission this summer for operating without a license, is back on the air. Radio Free Brattleboro says its authority to broadcast comes from the community rather than the FCC.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) It’s been a little over two weeks since Radio Free Brattleboro went back on the air. The tiny 10-watt station can only be heard around Brattleboro. It’s broadcasting from a different frequency than before, a channel that’s currently unoccupied in southern Vermont.

The station was shut down last June in a surprise visit from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC threatened to seize the stations equipment and levy fines if it continued to broadcast without a license.

(Larry Bloch) “Or, if we didn’t have a license, they asked for our authority to operate. And we understood without having anything to document it that the community is supportive of a station like ours.”

(Keese) DeeJay Larry Bloch is one of many RFB supporters who circulated petitions to document the station’s grass roots backing.

(Bloch) “And now we are better equipped to respond to the FCC, should they return and say, ‘Well, where’s your authority?’ We have thousands of signatures from people in town that, we believe, give us that authority.”

(Keese) Bloch says the FCC has failed in its mission to keep the airwaves accessible to the public. Bloch says anyone who’s interested can have access to RFB. The station, which has 60 DJs, has trained at least 300 local volunteers in its five-year history.

Three years ago, in its own effort to promote diversity, the FCC invited civic groups to apply for a new class of 100-watt, or low power FM, licenses. Radio Free Brattleboro, which operates at only 10 watts, did not apply.

Critics say that new FCC rules work against diversity. FCC chairman Michael Powell promised last month to speed up low power licensing. But current law bans anyone who’s ever broadcast illegally from applying for a license.

Bloch says in a few months Radio Free Brattleboro hopes to ask to own of Brattleboro for a formal resolution of support. Alex Goodenough, is a professor at Vermont Law School who’s written a book on TV broadcasting. He says RFB’s strategy couldn’t succeed.

(Goodenough) “There is just very, very longstanding precedent that the regulation of the air waves in the United States of America is the province of the federal government, and that province is exercised through the FCC. And the notion that a town in Vermont can authorize something is lovely, but it’s not anywhere near established law.”

(Keese) Goodenough says if the radio airwaves were left open to a free-for-all, no one’s voice would get through at all.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

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