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By Chris Flash

Members of Steal This Radio (STR), an unlicensed pirate radio station on the Lower East Side [at 88.7FM--Ed], switched on their radio transmitter at a press conference at noon on April 15 at the statue of George Washington at Wall + Nassau Streets to announce that a group known as Free Speech, composed of members and listeners of Steal This Radio, had just filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for violating their First Amend- ment constitutional rights.

STR began in November 1995 with mobile Friday night broadcast parties. By 1996, STR had upgraded to twenty watts and expanded its programming, gaining more diversity in the process. STR broadcasts seven days a week, from 5:00pm past midnight, presenting anarchist news and events, music, interviews, talk shows, and several hours of Spanish-language programming.

On March 5, FCC agent Judah Mans- bach visited the neighborhood from where Steal This Radio was then broad- casting and threatened a raid if the sta- tion was not "brought into code," meaning broadcasting no more than 200 feet. Mansbach claimed that he was responding to a signal interference complaint made by Hofstra University's radio station, WRHU. When WRHU was later contacted by STR to verify Mansbach's claim, station manager Bruce Avery said that no formal complaint had been made on behalf of the station, nor was he aware of any signal interference. Avery added that the Lower East Side is not part of WRHU's "primary or secondary signal contour."

Veteran pirate radio DJ and station builder Randi Steele told the SHADOW that she has had run-ins with Mansbach before. She said that Mansbach, a civil engineer with the FCC's New York Field Operations Bureau, came out of retire- ment just to find pirate radio stations. Mansbach was one of the FCC agents who joined in the orgy of destruction and dismantling of the famous pirate radio ship Sarah anchored in international waters off the coast of Long Island in July of 1987. "He's been doing this since 1963," Steele said. At the time of Mans- bach's STR search in March, the SHADOW saw a "sniffer" on the front seat of his car, used to track radio signals.

The FCC's attempt to shut down Steal This Radio is part of a nationwide crack- down on micropower radio in an effort to silence community groups accessing the airwaves for non-commercial cultural, so- cial and civic purposes. In recent months, the FCC has stepped up its attack on unlicensed stations across the country. Even so, more than 1,000 micro-broadcasters are currently on the air nationwide.

At the April 15 press conference, speeches addressed to the crowd were broadcast through a mobile transmitter set up at the base of the statue. With the announcement of the lawsuit by Free Speech, STR immediately resumed broadcasting and has been uninterrupted ever since. In solidarity with the micro- broadcasting movement, STR joined Radio Free Allston in Massachusetts and 87X in Florida in returning to the air- waves on the same day.

STR DJ Chrome said: "Corporate con- solidation trends in media have greatly narrowed the scope of what kind of news and music is available on the FM dial. As ever more New Yorkers become frustrat- ed with this corporate homogenization, the need for community radio stations which reflect the diversity and culture of our nighborhoods increases. This is about civil rights, about a growing movement to challenge the injustice of the federal government. The case is clear. This is about Free Speech versus the FCC."

[For more on Steal This Radio, see SHADOW #38. STR can receive mail c/o BlackOut Books, 50 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009. To get Radio Free Berkeley's newsletter and parts catalog to do your own micro-broadcasting, call 510-464-3041 or write to them at 1442A Walnut Avenue, #406, Berkeley, CA 94710. To express your feelings to the FCC directly, you can call them toll-free: 888-CALL-FCC]

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