Published March 13th, 2013
Corrected March 15th, 2013

Jonathan Jay

Recent History of Free Radio in Seattle

published in Tactical Sound #3 Re: Radio 2003

What is Radio?

Radio is poorly understood. It has only been 100 years since it was first ‘discovered’, and in the bigger scheme of things, 100 years is not a very long time. After all, it was almost 200 years after visible light was first demonstrated to be made up of different wavelengths, before radio was discovered to be basically the same ‘stuff’ but of a wavelength of light far past the red our human eyes can see. As the 20”‘ century came to a close, it was fashionable for techno-fetishists to assert radio was an obsolete technology. ‘Radio is dead! Long live Internet radio!’ Were they thinking that if said it enough, it might be true? Radio dead? Hal Could they be more wrong if they tried? One need only look at the fever pitch hysteria with which the Intel Corporation is marketing the ‘new’ potential of ‘unwired’ computing, and the explosion of WlFl networking to quickly see that we are really only a few tentative baby steps into a vast ocean of radio applications. Electromagnetic radiation is not going away any time soon, but we have only just begun to tap its potential. Because radio as a ‘means of communication was captured and dominated early on by powerful centralizing commercial forces, other utilizations of this medium were stillborn, and never fully explored. Perhaps as in 1800, we are only half of the way towards the next breakthrough because not enough monkeys are experimenting with the medium.

Think how much it would suck if your cellphone was just like your radio in that it was only a receiver. You couldn't ever talk, only listen. You could however choose from a dozen similar salesmen exhorting you to hyperconsume products you don’t need, or 40 tracks of ultra-tepid music repeated endlessly, or right-wingnut fanatics chomping at the bit to
‘ impose fascism today! Without delay! Ultra lame, but that is a snapshot of whats on the radio dial. Now imagine what it would be like if instead of a handful of powerful institutions controlling a limited number of ultra-high powered transmitters, radio was a lot more like a cellphone in that every boombox was also was a transmitter! Instead of a dozen 100,000-watt commercial stations in your town, there would be a molecular network of 300,000 independently owned four-watt stations. Then, masscommunications might mean the masses communicating on a user owned and operated network. Unlike your cellphone, there would be no recurring monthly infrastructure access fees. Unlike today’s centralized radio, there could be no Federal censorship on speech as there would be just too many snowflakes blowing through the sky to make sure each one conformed to convention. investigations in the last few decades of tiny FM signals no stronger than the light bulb you may be using to read this now, have been in many ways seeking to explore what things might be like if the dominant order was stood on its head. Instead of radio for the few, there would be radio for all. Ex unum plures: out of one — many.

Radio -— seemingly some kind of bundled form of electricity and magnetism that shimmies through space at the speed of light — is a mystery. What (physically) is this electromagnetism? A wave pulsing through space? A particle oscillating along vectors? Some strange fusion into wavicle, parvicle? People have only been asking questions like these for 300 years, so we might have to wait around a few more centuries before we can expect some more definitive answers. Aspects of the way radio moves through space (or propagates) can be described: reflection, refraction, diffusion, interference, frequency, wavelength and velocity, but that says nothing about what it is. Certainly something seems to be vibrating, hence frequency and wavelength, but what is it that is shaking? Even though we casually refer to radio as being in the airwaves, this is technically not true — radio does not need air to make its waves. From beyond Pluto, the Voyager spacecraft still sends its 20 watt radio signals all the way back home. to us through outer space. No air there. is it then the very fabric of space—time itself, the warp and weft of 10 dimensional strings that is oscillating? No one really knows, and there is no back of the book where we can turn to for the answer. Each day, millions turn on their radios on, but there is a big difference between turning a radio on, and knowing what goes into making it work. If you ask me what FM really stands for, in my heart I know it is not ‘Frequency Modulation’, it’s ‘Fucking Magic’.

A Little Background

‘Free-form’ Community Radio goes down the Tubes

In Seattle, when I grew up, there was an excellent non~commercial, volunteer—run community radio station called KCMU. While the local big rock stations were fixated on regurgitating ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ into the 80’s (as they still do to this day), KCMU 90.3 FM was playing 'Hairway to Steven’ by the Butthole Surfers, and local music like “SuperFuzz BigMuff” from Seattle’s Mud Honey. With KCMU, you never knew what you were going to hear next — that was a huge part of what made it a delight to the ear, especially because the DJ’s really knew what they were doing. As KCMU became more established and began to develop a national reputation, post—grunge heavies began to move in and the station began to change. By the early 90’s, the free-form structure of anything goes was on the way out. Harsh and abrasive experimental music was no longer tolerated for play during the day by an increasingly heavyhanded station management. The open, genre-blending free-form 'format’ that kept listeners on their toes and exposed me as well as thousands of others to a world of music and audio landscapes we never knew existed, was replaced with an actual format that was just a tad more dull and predictable. Station management realized they could attract more affluent listeners if the ‘rougher edges’ were ‘smoothed’. One volunteer voiced objection to this new policy on the air. He was canned. The entire volunteer staff then rebelled, walking out of the station. There was great support in the local music community for the station volunteers and their effort to keep KCMU a dynamic, free-form, community radio station.

For almost two years C.U.R.S.E. (Censorship Undermines Radio Station Ethics) had a big impact, getting lots of local and national press coverage. The station barely limped along and was even forced to go off the air nights. However, the DJ’s did not have a station and management did. KCMU also had large—scale institutional backing with deep pockets to help them weather the storm. Eventually, new DJ’s were attracted with paid positions. Employees are not the same as volunteers - they cost more, but they can be told what to and what not to do. Soon the station with its slightly-more-bland format began to prosper, as it never had before, appealing to exactly the more affluent demographic targeted. Perhaps in a more perfect universe it would not be true that dumbingdown creates broader appeal, leading to increased station revenue. Virtue is not always rewarded by the invisible hand. Perhaps most sadly, the dismantling of KCMU was only one of hundreds of community stations being eviscerated all over the country. Six years later in 2001 when the lobotomized KCMU was snapped up by one of the Pacific Northwest’s ‘benevolent’ billionaires and mutated into KEXP, few of the original listeners and DJ’s cared. I know I had long since tuned out, plus there was a new game in town.

Pirate Radio Explodes in the USA

In 1992-3, just about the time the KCMU/CURSE meltdown was occurring, just down the coast about a thousand miles south in another city, Steven Dunnifer was getting into his own tub of hot water. Disgusted by what he felt was outrageously jingoistic coverage by the corporate media back in 1990/1991 of George H.W. Bush’s (Bush 1) Gulf War (GW 2), he did something about it. He began building small, low powered FM transmitters. Beginning in ’92 at night he would hike up into the hills above Berkeley and Oakland to broadcast ‘Free Radio’ and deliver alternative perspectives that the big media were refusing to air. ‘Not so fast, Mr. Dunnifer‘ said the Bay Area FCC agents. ‘With no license to broadcast, we're gonna shut you down.’ While it was true Dunnifer had no license, he did not shut down, nor did he back down. In court, backed by the progressive NLGC (National Lawyers Guild Council) attracted to the case on a free speech basis, they explained to Judge Claudia Vlfilkens one of the reasons Dunnifer had no license was because the FCC did not have any licenses to give out to low powered broadcasters. When the FCC admitted this was true, on January 20th of 1995 Judge Wilkens directed the FCC to get out of her court, not to come back until they had re-examined their regulatory posture.[1] The FCC’s injunction against Dunnifer’s micro broadcasting was frozen. No longer was micro radio the black and white legal/illegal issue the FCC said it was. Now ‘license-free’ micro broadcasting slipped into a gray area — the green light for microFM was on. Across the country, out came the soldering irons and up went the antennas. A movement of sorts had begun. . until they could come up with a better answer.

‘Fuck the Man’: Pearl Jam & Monkeywrench Radio

By the mid 90‘s, the Seattle band Pearl Jam was on their way to becoming a fairly big deal. As the band was beginning to grow in popularity, they began to bump up against some of the more frustrating aspects of the music industry. Pearl Jam wanted to keep their show prices low so folks could afford to hear them play. Promoters and venues wanted to make a lot of money. How to work this out? TicketMaster had the local monopoly on ticket sales and placed such a hefty surcharge on tickets they sold, the combined total was too steep for some fans. Pearl Jam went to TicketMaster and asked them to stop jacking up the ticket prices. Predictably, TicketMaster would not budge on their lucrative position. Pearl Jam’s response was to buy a radio transmitter from Steven Dunnifer and his ‘Free Radio Berkeley’ outfit, and broadcast their live shows for free to anyone who wanted to tune in, ‘ ta dime going to TicketMaster. What had started out as a way to say "Fuck You” to TicketMaster became ‘Monkeywrench Radio’ and went on tour with the band, broadcasting down on the low end of the dial at every show in the country. [2]

Pirate Radio comes to Seattle

At the end of the tour, rather than just let the radio gear sit around and rust, James Lane, one of the two roadies who operated the Monkeywrench equipment on tour, worked out a deal with PJ to set up shop and start a pirate radio station in Seattle. The Monkeywrench gear was donated, and FUCC [3] was born. Many of the ex—KCMU DJ’s were happy to spin on this completely uncensored broadcast platform (with 30 watts of mono FM) and helped form the knowledgeable and experienced core of the station as it started up. FUCC, as perhaps the name suggests, was a near anarchic free-form pirate radio station. At that time I knew nothing at all about audio production, being a DJ, or anything about how FM worked, but it was crystal clear that pirate radio was sexy as hell, in fact, that’s how I first got involved. On FUCC you could say or play whatever you wanted. Folks who tuned into 89.1fm and did not like what they heard, were invited to: come in and do their own show; start their own radio station; change the dial; or shut the fucc up. That was good enough for me.[4]

For a while, the coast was clear and we had smooth sailing. Unfortunately, the FCC soon decided they could still harass ‘pirate’ broadcasters. Periodically, every 3-6 months, the FCC would detect our broadcasts and the station would have to find a new home. Within a month we were back up, and the party would start again. Sometimes 3 or 4 months would pass until a new studio could be secured. When we did find a new location, in went the gear and quickly we would fire up the transmitter.... for a couple of months. After about the 9th or 10th studio, this began to get stale. It was at this time that I began to learn a bit about radio. Although it was educational, after a while all the setting up and breaking down was not fun anymore -- it was work, and we weren’t getting paid. Also, there was always something lacking in the new studio, but no one bothered to fix, because in truth it did not make sense to do so. Everyone knew the FCC would come around and we would be moving again soon. After three years of the educational yet sobering experience playing cat and mouse with the FCC in more than a dozen studios, we all became tired. And so early in ‘98, FUCC came to rest, and all the Pearl Jam studio gear was put into storage. We all took a much-needed vacation from pirate radio. [5]

Left Coast ‘Free Radio‘ comes to Seattle: FSR 87.9fm
News, views, and underground sounds as political action.

About six months after FUCC finally folded, a new micro radio effort was coming together. I was approached early on, but they were moving slowly, short on gear, and did not yet have a name. Unlike FUCC, this effort was being put together by activists, not rock stars, so there was definitely a different flavor and pace to the way things got done —— lots of committees, and lots of meetings. For example, the ‘programming committee’ dutifully held weekly meetings to discuss what kinds of shows should be scheduled at which times. Before I came into the project, they had been holding their weekly committee meetings for 6 months, while they didn’t even have a working transmitter. Feeling frustrated watching this slow—motion process, l jumped in and in short order; we had a name, “Free Seattle Radio”, and had picked a frequency, 87.9 FM. l was able to secure the use of Pearl Jam gear from FUCC, and a door was finally put on “Studio 3”.  Perhaps as many as 1,000 people made use of that gear, and several projects including FSR would not have been able to proceed as they did without this gift from the rock stars, and their roadie who saw the merit in putting it to good use.

On December 7th 1998, the transmitter was fired up and Free Seattle Radio (FSR) was on the air. One of the primary purposes of FSR was to explicitly reclaim the ‘people’s right to the people’s airwaves.’ In addition to having music, audio-collage and extemporaneous ranting, there was also a determined effort to produce local public affairs on a nightly basis. As a political project, FSR constantly sought out all kinds of national and local media from NPR to the local newspapers and weeklies, all in an effort to make the case for public access to the airwaves we all collectively owned. We found out a lot of people never knew the airwaves belong to all of us. We also found out that not a lot of people cared. Unfortunately, the press we got also landed on the desk of the FCC. If they didn’t know about us before, they did then. Within 4 four months from firing up, we received a ‘visitation’ and the station shut down. Many station members were excited to find a new studio and start all over again. Not me. It was clear that some innovation in our basic strategy was needed. [6]

And Now for Something Completely Different

Staying stuck on the merry-go-round with the FCC grabbing all the brass rings was not getting us anywhere. After months of frustration, I recalled an article I had read several months earlier. It was all about ‘internet radio’, ‘streaming audio’ and a format called ‘MP3’. At the time I thought it sounded interesting, but ‘computer-stuff’ had nothing to do with the real FM radio we were doing. With no microradio going on, I had time to go back and think about it. As the two different kinds of ‘radio systems’ were tossing back and forth in my head, something clicked. instead of trying to decide which way was ‘better’ they were just ‘different’. instead of having to choose between one or the other, they could be combined! Quickly I realized that if MP3 audio could be streamed out of the studio to an FM transmitter located elsewhere, the FCC would not be able to find the studio.
This new model seemed to make sense for many other reasons. No longer would we have to be covert and twitchy about what we were doing in the studio space because we would not be breaking broadcast regulations in that location. Our cover story could simply be that we were an ‘internet radio station’ and it would be true. Because of this new ‘legal’ status, we could publicly invite a much larger cross-section of people to get involved, particularly those folks who might be interested in doing a show, but not a clandestine operation. Since the FCC does not yet have authorization to control the intemet, they would have no jurisdiction over the production end of the operation. Over at the
distribution side of things (FM), there was still the problem of FCC detection, but this too was mitigated by several factors. First, not every single person who came to the studio would need to know where the transmitter was located so 40 fewer mouths were blabbing about where it was. When (not if) the FCC located the signal and zoomed in, it would be a simple task to pull the antenna and transmitter out and quickly re-locate it. If the FCC were to somehow catch us off guard and stage a raid to the broadcasting location they would only be able to get the transmission gear, and nothing else. in a situation like that, we would no longer experience organizational disruption - instead we could maintain continuity, continuing to meet and make radio from the same location. Since the studio would now be safe, we could finally design and build a decent studio. But far and away, the very best thing was that all of the FCC related issues that had consumed so much of our energy, was off of our plates. We could now actually concentrate on the art and craft of making good radio. Slam Dunk!

Building The ‘New’ Model: Studio “X”, the Speakeasy, and the Fusion of Internet and Micro Radio

As luck would have it, I just happened to be friends with the owners of Speakeasy.NET, a Seattle-based ISP (internet service provider). When I pitched them the idea, they not only thought it was novel and worthwhile: they also gave us broadband at cost and some studio space adjacent to their network headquarters. It was right in the hipster heart of downtown Seattle. What started out as yet another search for a studio, instead tumed into a whole new microradio broadcasting model. As icing on the cake, Speakeasy also gave me a job — they hired me to look after their community access computer network. Without the tremendous support of The Speakeasy, this effort would not have succeeded to the extent that it did.

Conceiving a model is one thing. Getting folks to agree to it, chip in the resources needed to pull it off and work to make it happen... is another. Throughout the month of July in 1999, the FSR heavies argued back and forth about whether or not this was a good idea. The station basically split into two camps. One group did not want to use" the internet to stream to the transmitter, because they did not want to be an ‘internet radio station’. They wanted to confront the FCC directly with good ole-fashioned radio, as the medium that was more affordable than the cost of a computer and a broadband connection. The other group agreed that the goal was not to become an Internet radio station, but wanted to use the internet as a tactical means to protect the studio from the FCC. The goal was to stay on the air so we actually could confront the FCC with good ole-fashioned affordable radio, instead of being shut down all the time and just talking about being a radio station.

We sealed the deal with Speakeasy and construction began two weeks later. Much much later, long after we had been up and running smoothly for months (feeling quite pleased with ourselves), we discovered the 'innovation’ of separating the studio from the transmitter for practical purposes was actually standard operating procedure for nearly all licensed radio stations. Evidently, we had just re-invented the wheel and there was even a name for it: STL — Studio-to-Transmitter Link. Go figure. The good news was confirmation that we were on a viable path.

A Giant Sucking Sound: The WTO Cometh

In addition to all of the physical construction that was needed for the studio space, there were a couple other issues we had to deal with. The first was relatively simple: although there was a fair amount of audio knowledge in the group, and some FM know-how, there was the entirely new computer component. in addition to all of the old gear, we now needed a couple of computers to sit on both ends of the DSL, one to encode and the other to decode our audio. Lucky for us, we lived in Seattle, so these things were not too hard to find. Much harder to deal with than technical computing issues, was the fact that we lived in Seattle, and this thing called the World Trade Organization was going to have some kind of ‘convention’ in our town.

In really only a matter of weeks, as if it was a giant vacuum, this thing began drawing nearly everything into it. Soon it seemed almost everyone and everything they were doing was somehow directly related to the WTO...

including the construction of our studio, for now we had a deadline. Though it was three months away, it was moving fast straight for us. If it seemed like there were lots of meetings before, now there were so many meetings, you almost couldn’t get any actual work done between them. Studio construction was beginning to lag. Also, there was the dawning awareness that non-corporate media makers of all flavors would be coming into town, not. justtradio. Unless some kind of facility was prepared in advance, no anti-corporate critique of the WTO would ever be conveyed by the corporate media to the general public. Why should they? The whole premise of the WTO was basically that massive corporations (i.e. private tyrannies with limited liability) should be in charge and do whatever they wanted, basically a transnational wet dream. If any alternative perspectives were going to be conveyed by ‘the media’, we would have to become ‘the media’ and do it. Jeff Pearlstein, one of the organizers and also a DJ from FSR began spearheading this broader effort. He and many others realized that only by breaking our dependence on the existing corporate media structures for information conveyance and issue framing would independent perspectives be voiced and communicated. Funny, these are many of the same issues microradio was confronting. Our ‘micro’ actions at the hyper-local level were a natural fit for ‘mass’ action at the hyper-global level — fractal politics.

NO MORE MEETINGS! Hunkering Down for the WTO

The Studio-to-be was volunteered to be available for this drive, but it was apparent there needed to be a much broader push. Everyone agreed it was a good idea, necessary even, but what to call it? Oh boy, here we go again. During the second what-are-we-gonna-call-it meeting, i got exasperated, walked into the Speakeasy Internet Café sat down at one of the terminals, punched up to find out was available. Hmmm, good URL. Simple short and even ‘cute’. Fuck it, I said to myself, and with my ‘consensus of one’, I charged it and it was done. Walking back into the meeting, I told folks that apart from all else, I was going to make sure that at least the studio would be ready, but it would take most of my energy, so please leave me out of most of the rest of the planning. Oh and by the way, i just picked up for us all to use, so feel free to move on to the next topic of discussion. We got a studio to build. Goodluck; goodnight.

Stepping out of what would quickly become the indymedia maelstrom at that point was the best thing I possibly could have done. By the time November 30"‘ came, it was 100% clear that had we not started almost 6 months earlier, we never would have finished the studio in time. There was so much work organizationally and logistically that needed to be done strictly having to do with just audio, streaming, and radio. I know had l tried to do too much else, I would have been spread far too thin. As it turned out, as understaffed as we were, and with much ruckus going on, it’s a wonder that we were anywhere close to ready when the trade delegates began landing at SEATAC Airport. We still had a lot more work ahead of us than we knew.

WTO T-Minus 6 Weeks Advance Work for a National Pirate Convergence

By October it was clear that the WTO was going to be a very big thing. From numerous listserve and email communiqués we found out that in addition to thousands of others, scores of Pirate Radio folks from all over the country would also be coming to town. With so many ‘guests’ to our dial, some more work had to be done. A need was seen for creating a local mFCC: microradio Frequency Coordinating Cooperative - the first crude mapping of the Seattle FM dial was done so incoming pirates would have a place on the dial to land for WTO. At different times, there had been one or two pirate stations in Seattle for years, so we only knew about 2 or 3 frequencies that were open. This would be different. A quick skimming of the FCC database of the licensed FM broadcasters in the Seattle region turned up some obvious gaps where microradio might squeeze into the dial, These were flagged for listening, to make sure they were quiet. The good ones were posted online so that incoming microbroadcasters could quickly see which frequencies were open.

In addition to setting up for Studio X and the incoming pirates, it was immediately apparent that besides this upcoming WTO-related event, there would be more large-scale anti-corporate globalization protests and very likely an entire alphabet of studios set up to send out live audio. Clearly others would follow, and it was thought a portal to consolidate, promote, and host these endeavors would be handy, so http://www.MicroRadio.NET came online.

WTO T—Minus3 days: National Microradio‘War Council’

Towards the end of the last week before the upcoming WTO urban shutdown, an increasing number of micro radio folk were filtering into town. Many came up the west coast, and about a dozen more from the east coast as well as other parts of the country. Via email, it had been determined that we should all have a ‘powwow’. This ‘War Council' (as fairly combative Steven Dunnifer called it) was a meeting of all the pirates converging in occupied Seattle to do broadcast battle with ‘the man.’ We all met in the Speakeasy office space just outside Studio X. Four basic tactics emerged for simultaneous action and beautiful chaos:

1) Old-school all-in-one studio and transmitter combo operating as a stand alone, broadcasting from a 'safe house’ on one of the hills in town;

2) The Philadelphia pirates had assembled backpack transmitters and umbrella antennas to beam directly from the streets;

3) A very secretive duo preparing a commando-style broadcast using high-gain yagi antennas to force their radio sign into a beam that could be aimed.’ All of the other broadcast setups were using omnidirectional antennas. You can get a pretty good idea what this means if you compare simple naked light bulb shooting light in all directions around it vs. that same bulb inside a spotlight. They bulb emits the same amount of light in both cases, but when inside the searchlight, the bulb is surrounded by a parabolic mirror that reflects the light the bulb is emitting, and directs it all to shoot in one direction so the bulb appears brighter. its not, but all the light that was going everywhichway, is now concentrated into a single beam. These two were operating completely off the power grid, running all their gear on DC power from daisy-chained car batteries they had hauled 60’ up in onto a platform in a tree located across the Puget Sound. Because they were broadcasting from an elevation of 3,000 feet in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, even though they were 30 miles away, they had a booming signal over the entire metro area. Through wind and rain they stayed up in the tree all week. (FYI, they kicked ass).  [Select Audio Here - Lex 2013]

4) The “Seattle Solution”: Studio X sending MP3 streams via the internet to the FSR transmitter across town to broadcast in FM.
All the pirates that wanted to were invited to pick a shift and step up to the mic. Since there were so many pirates from different outfits, we agreed for the duration of VWO, to be called ‘Radio VOS’ Voices of Occupied Seattle. Our format was to be ‘music for the revolution’ tunes to cheer our ‘comrades’ in the streets, and live updates, breaking news with call-ins to the studio. Posters were made with the four frequencies that would be ‘microradio active’ and put up around town. Everyone wished everyone else good luck.

All of these efforts, converging on parallel tracks with essentially the same objective, were revealed to each other so shortly before the city was engulfed, that wishing each other luck, and trying not to step on each other’s frequency was about as much as we could do for each other. As a result, each effort was conducted either largely or entirely autonomously. Cleverly enough, our chaotic planning turned out to be a virtue. When the shit began to hit the fan, and everyone’s plans, the city leaders, the police, the delegates, the protesters, and the activists began to go into meltdown, we turned out to be sitting pretty because our ‘plan’ was fluid and our goal was beautiful chaos. There was some last minute furious soldering, and someone had the good idea of printing business cards with the telephone number of the studio and the URL to be handed out in the streets so folks could call in. Late, late, late on Sunday night Studio “X” was finally fully functional (we never did decide what to call it, but as is the case so often, that name stuck).

T-Minus 3 hours: The Calm before the Storm is Not Just a Cliché

As I rode home on my bike in the small hours of what had been Sunday night (but was now early Monday morning) through the empty wet streets, everything was coated in that amber sodium street lamp glow. Businesses and shops that normally flaunted their ten and twelve foot tall plate glass windows, had suddenly boarded up with huge sheets of plywood that covered all the retail glass as if there was forecast of a hurricane, which we never have. Approaching the convention center where much of the WTO was about to be held, I peddled through an intersection where a lone cop car was ‘parked’ diagonally. l was thinking about all the work that taken place over the last six months, and now now we had a radio station we could finally rely on. The streets were quiet, which is why I then heard shouting so clearly. About half a block ahead of me in the street were about a dozen more cops standing in the street who were yelling... at me. What was I doing here? Riding my bike officer. You can’t be here, GO HOME NOW. Gee, that’s exactly what you are blocking me from doing. I live over there, pointing past him. This is the route I have taken at least several hundred times and is the quickest way home. This is a public street, right? My tax dollars had probably paid for at least some of it. I only need a strip about 12 inches wide, and if you let me through, l’ll be on my way. Sir. Nice and logical, no? Ever try to argue with a cop at three o'clock in the morning? Guess what, I took an alternate route home.

Looking back it was a funny moment. Two days later all of downtown would be locked down under curfew, martial law would be declared, 600 people would soon be arrested and hauled off in city busses, the National Guard would be using chemical weapons that were in violation of the Geneva Convention, and the FBI and the CIA would be brought in just to show us all those streets weren’t ours after all. That night I slept hard, and most of the next day as well.

We are Media: MicroRadio,Indymedia & the WTO

Welcome to ‘Occupied Seattle’ You have just left your own Universe

You may have heard a few stories about Seattle during the WTO. With 60,000 people in the streets and the police going apeshit, there are a lot of stories to tell. if you were there, or had friends who were, you know what I am talking about. On the other hand, if all you know about ‘The Battle of Seattle’ is what you saw on TV or some other big media sources, well then the more you watched, the less you knew. Knowing this in an intellectual way, and experiencing this corporate information dissonance up close and personal is like seeing yourself for the first time in a funhouse mirror - corporate reality-warp.

By the time I got back to Belltown, Studio X was a beehive. Although the Category V chaos was still a day away, there was already plenty going on, DJ’s from three different parts of California were running the ship, several folks were clamoring for the mic, someone was sleeping on the floor, in blew more pirates from the Midwest. It was pretty clear no one was in charge - it was perfect. There was live reportage via DJ reporters in the street using cell phones as microphones calling into the studio conducting live interviews. There was loud punk rock music. There were stark ambient soundscapes mixed in with raw live audio coming directly from the streets. There were movie soundtracks. There were MC’s on the mic preaching powerful words. There was political analysis. There was a fractured chaotic puree of a world of noise, and a city under siege.

Over the next three days we would have bicycle couriers slicing through locked-down ‘impassable’ streets, threading through Absurdist obstacles: billowing clouds of tear gas, armored robocop ‘storm troopers’ with no identification spraying toxic liquids into people’s faces and shooting rubber bullets randomly into crowds, speeding phalanxes of motorcycle cops, The troop movements of National Guardsmen trundling through the city in their APV’s (Armored Personal Vehicles, basically tanks without the big gun filled with soldiers on the move). No one should have to deal with these kinds of things unless playing some post—apocalyptic cartoon video game. Although they were a bit slower than usual, they consistently brought in freshly recorded audio from the field manually into the studio. In pretty quick fashion, the whole city was becoming a nuthouse. At night cops were marching around like they had been waiting for years to use all their ‘new toys’. inexplicably, one night they were roaming around outside of the downtown core, pumping some of the residential neighborhoods full of tear gas. People began to get a little upset, yet tens of thousands of people were remarkably restrained in their behavior. I wish the same could have been said of the police force... uh, correction: although the same was said of the police force by the establishment media, I wish that it was true. As shit went down, audio went out. We told it like we saw it, or more often let people speak for themselves. Admittedly this raw, ‘novel’ approach to media making is looked down on as extremely unprofessional in the industry. What we were doing did not fit into a regular hourly schedule. When people wanted to know what was coming up, we were pleasantly unable to tell them. The ‘show’ we were playing did not pause for underwriting announcements, we did not give station lD’s ‘at the top of the hour’ - perhaps that‘s why it was so mesmerizing. I would find out later from some folks in town I really didn’t know too well, that during that week, they found themselves glued to their radios, unable to pull themselves away from the speaker. Much of the time we weren’t doing much ‘mediating’ at all what terrible journalists we were! Often we simply broadcasted the sounds of the city as they came in. it was wild.

We had arrested reporters calling in to give reports from the city busses that had been commandeered by the police to rapidly detain and remove scores of people quickly. We had self—appointed observers call in to the studio relaying information about police or federal troop concentrations and movement. We gave out ACLU contact information for folks who needed legal assistance. Steven Dunnifer was on the mic with long mildly entertaining rants about the corporate police state. We even found a live audio stream someone set up that was monitoring police communication channels in realtime, and placing that live audio on the web. When a group of a couple thousand protesters marched up the street outside the studio window, we passed a microphone out the window on a 100’ cord and did live interviews in the street with passing marchers. In almost all the corporate media coverage I was able to see, all kinds of speculations and assertions were made over and over again by ‘experts’ explaining what was going on... why? We simply asked folks directly, and they told us.

micro media vs. MEGA MEDIA

Over and over again, big media pundits on corporate networks would throw up their hands in seeming exasperation, exclaimlng that ‘these people’ did not know what they wanted, or perhaps allow there was some vague laundry list of complaints, but that there were so many, they did not add up to anything. In stark contrast to these... what's a good word for it... lies, the hundreds of the people we interviewed and spoke with were almost universally well informed, utterly cogent and forceful with their myriad critiques of the WTO. Far from being scattered, almost all the positions articulated consistently, boiled down to essentially the same central theme: the WTO was ‘bad’ because aimed to destroy all peoples right to determine their own affairs. The WTO placed corporate profit before everything else, perhaps even life on earth. ‘These people’ had a long list of demands because the WTO was going 180 degrees in the wrong direction. That is a very clear statement. This is very easy to communicate. There is nothing complicated or abstract about it. it was only possible to fail to understand what was going on if you were trying very hard not to understand. The collective eloquence from the street was more than impressive: it was astonishing. ‘These people’ from all walks of life and from all over the world were very clear about the message they wanted to send. They were also very clear about what they were in Seattle to do. They were in Seattle to shut down the WTO, and that was exactly what they were doing.

Over on the technical side, things were working pretty well for most of the little broadcasters. The safe-house crew was producing an extra absurd dada radio broadcast. They kept playing circus music, making farting noises on the mic, and telling the WTO, that ‘nobody liked them’, that they ‘were ugly’ and that they ‘should go home’, because it was ‘past their bedtime’. Sadly, the pirates in the streets with backpack transmitters and umbrella antennas were not having as good of a time. The backpacks tumed out to be ungainly in crowded situations. The umbrella concept for the antennas worked great in that they ‘looked’ just like umbrellas. They also functioned perfectly — as umbrellas. Unfortunately they could not produce a signal that was even close to satisfactory. Then they got arrested, hauled off to the regional detention center and sat there the rest of the week -- Game over. The tree sitters were booming, boy did they do their homework, and boy did they come prepared. Evidently, even though they had battery problems, the 17 watts they were able to produce onsite, with their twin 7-element Yagi antennas pointed towards Seattle like a doubled barreled shotgun, blasted out a 30 degree cone of RF signal so concentrated, it had an effective strength of 100 watts, and was heard over the entire city. I set my alarm clock radio to them, and they woke me up for the rest of the week. In spite of the fact that we had a huge rain and windstorm that week that kept their tree shaking spasmodically, these two stalwarts managed to stay on all week. They had periodic live updates from a team they brought with them using altered walkie-talkies with homemade high-gain direction antennas on frequencies way above the FM band, some excellent pre-produced material, and international reports from Radio Havana which they pulled down via shortwave. Oh yeah, and great music too. Did I mention these folks kicked ass?

The Third Microradio Autonomous Zone: 93.7 FM

Back in the studio, the stream was a little shaky, and it took us a while to figure out if the problem was on our end or the antennas, but we had a tech saint who stepped up to baby-sit the stream and give it and nudge back into motion when it cracked. The FM transmission was a bit tricky at first somehow, who was supposed to be where on the dial got messed up. 87.9 was ‘in use’ by the virtually incommunicado commando crew 30 miles out of town. Deciding the best move was to be gracious hosts to the fellow broadcasters visiting our fair city, the FSR transmitter frequency was recalibrated to another gap a bit further up the dial, and soon the streamed audio from Studio X was converted in a gentle FM glow all over central Seattle at 93.7 FM. With a nod to Hakim Bey, our Microradio Autonomous Zone was on. We knew so, because we heard it on the radio — tuned in on a boombox in the studio.

To our initial surprise, the signal was actually hard to find because what we were hearing on the air, was not what was happening in the studio. At first we could not figure out what was wrong. This had never happened before, when using the broadcast signal as a DJ monitor for the all-broadcast-in-one-place setup. Pretty quickly we figured out it was a time delay of about half a minute. Although I did not understand this at the time, what was causing the delay was a combination of computer processing on both ends of the link. Some of the delay was from the time the computer in the studio took to encoding our audio - convert it from sound into MP3 stream. The rest of the delay comes from the way streaming software buffers the incoming audio. We were finding out ‘live internet radio’ was not exactly live. We also figured out the delay was cool to fuck around with, so we did. We began to purposely use the delay by feeding the received FM audio back into the mixer, combining it with more live audio, and sending it out to the transmitter again. This made for some incredible audio looping, and amazing audio collage. The X-MAZ was not only on -- it was hot!

Accidentally Connecting to the World

Because we had agreed to hold down the audio part of the ‘indy’ coverage allowing the indy tech and organizational crew to concentrate on everything else, at my insistence a graphic button was placed on the front page of the website. After all, we were all indy media, no? For some reason, the button kept getting taken off - I think because in the chaos, some tech person thought the indy front page was getting ‘too busy’. Late in the afternoon on Monday, I jumped on my bike and rode the 8 blocks over to indymedia central. We got the link issue straightened out, and made sure that everyone there understood anyone who wanted to was welcome to come on over to ‘Location X’ with an indymedia ID and get on the mic, do a shift as a DJ, or make a report of some breaking event. I made sure they had our phone number, and that who ever was the person that needed to know understood that the link stayed on the front page. was beginning to get a lot of hits, thousands then tens of thousands then hundreds of thousands, from folks all over the world wanting to know what the heck was going on in Seattle. A lot of people were seeing our link and tuning in, on the web. Unbeknownst to us,, a well respected hacker site had also placed a huge link to us on their home page. Actually, their front page was a link to us. Getting that kind of boost from the hackers was a pretty big deal; evidently, we were doing something right. As the week continued to grind on, it turned out were not the only folks who put up a link to us. In addition to all the unknown websites that linked to us, Yahoo had put us one click off their home page in the column of Radio stations providing coverage of the events taking place at the WTO... at the top of the list — above all the Seattle affiliates of the big national networks ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as MSNBC, CNN and the BBC! For all that week, we were the number one audio source of information in the world with our mostly non—stop live coverage of what was happening in the streets of Seattle as the people largely peacefully protested and the police went on an authoritarian rampage.

The calls started coming in. Seattleites who had just stumbled across our local FM signal heard us give the number over the air were excited about actually hearing simple unmediated radio for a change. Mission Accomplished! More calls started coming in that weren’t local, Someone in eastern Washington State took our audio feed and put into his transmitter and was broadcasting us live. Then Montana, emailed, then West Virginia, then Tokyo, then someone from Amsterdam: they were all broadcasting our audio stream onto their local FM dial. Frankly, I was shocked. My idea to stream was just intended to be a way to stay one step ahead of the FCC, and send audio from the studio to our transmitter across town, not around the world. Sometimes it's fun to be so wrong! Think of the adhoc global networking possibilities. in only a couple of days, hundreds of people sent email from all over the country and around the world thanking us for sending out a simple stream of constantly updated information about what was actually going on in Seattle, because they sure couldn’t get the facts from their local TV station, or regional newspaper. Of course, many of these emails were read on the mic - two-way communication! The picture that big media was painting about the ‘battle in Seattle’ was like looking into a carnival funhouse mirror where everything is distorted, stretched out of shape beyond recognition, and upside down. They couldn't have gotten the story more wrong if they were trying —- because it was obvious they were. Why should a corporate media outlet honestly convey structural critiques of their very own vision of a capitalist utopia? In all fairness, one can reasonably expect them to leave that kind of reporting up to someone else. We did not let them down.

Sleepy Seattle Once Again

For the next two years, things cooked right along. While the indymedia global network exploded, growing by leaps and bounds, in once again quiet Seattle, Studio X was content to remain a local community-access internet radio station, experimenting quietly in the backwaters at the very local level. The basics of running an all-volunteer grassroots organization with almost no money was challenge enough. Over the next year, hundreds of people came into and through the studio and got hands-on experience playing music, learning mic technique, reporting on local news, basically learning first hand some of the things that went into making your own media, and perhaps something to demystify ‘communication technologies’. We made sure to try and keep things ‘fun’ so as not to scare away people just beginning to think about media issues. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you have to connect to people where they are. Folks who seemed to take an interest were fed more and more information, and then invited to join us every couple of months when there was another major global social justice action. During these times, Studio X would morph into a media activist audio distribution hub. At each major protest, we would try to spread the ‘gospel’ of stream-to-fm, and share the lessons we had learned. Sometimes we made connections and this is what drove the growth of MicroRadio.NET, which after the first year had developed working relationships with about 20 other audio groups in the US and Europe. But getting the word out about our tactical breakthrough was surprisingly tough going. Most people in the microradio community wanted nothing to do with streaming audio, even though all the while stations kept getting shut down by the FCC. Over in the streaming universe, the vast majority of computer tech-heads wanted nothing to do with terrestrial broadcast. ‘Radio is history, the computers will set us free’ seemed to be their mantra. It was talking to a brick wall. We continued to participate in a string of activist anticorporate convergences as Studio X for two years. For more information see and http://microradionet. This time, the system was run in reverse, with Studio X receiving live audio streams from other convergence zones, and in turn pitching that audio to our FM affiliate FSR to be broadcast on the radio locally.

Washington DC IMF/World Bank Protests
Praha IMF Protests

Philadelphia RNC protests
Los Angeles DNC protests
Quebec FTAA Protests

It was pretty exciting to be able to listen to events happening around the world on our local FM dial, and know that we had been able to construct a functional network with global reach and local touch. It was oddly invigorating to be able to hear Fidel Castro's speech to the UN live from New York on local Seattle radio. We knew we were doing something that otherwise simply would not happen. When the live audio coverage from Radio Jelani in Praha was streaming to the Seattle transmitter, it was especially surreal to be driving around the absolutely dead—quiet streets of Seattle at three o‘clock in the morning while mayhem erupted in the middle of the day on the other side of the planet. First it was super odd that so much could be unfolding over there at the same time almost everyone in town was sound asleep. Secondly, it was hard to believe we were pulling off what in 1938 had taken the combined efforts of CBS and the BBC to present Edward Murrow's first live broadcast from London to the United States. We were now only 62 years behind cutting—edge communication capability. Not bad for an all—volunteer crew and a shoestring budget.
When ‘the shit’ was not going down somewhere, Studio X was run as community-access micro-radio station with subculture music DJ’s and tons of quirky public affairs. Every couple of months, there would be

>>> What: Agitating Against the G-8
>>> When: June 26-27, 2002
>>> Where: Ottawa & Kananaskis
>>> Tune-In: G-8 ;Radio Alberta & IMC—0ttawa
>>> The executive board of global capitalism (the G-8) is retreating to the foothills of Alberta, Canada. Jean Chrétien, George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the other so—called leaders of the industrialized world continue planning for war at home and abroad, surrounded by pristine wilderness, putting greens, and thousands of police and soldiers. Stay—tuned for broadcasts from the frontlines of this continuing battle against the world's ruling elite. For the Call to Action, including broadcast plans during the Group of Eight Summit, click here.

>>> Resources
>>> http://wwwgeocities,com/ericsquire/g8 .htm >>>
>>> http://wwwtakethecapital .net
Join us as we seize the means of communication take our culture back and broadcast sweet sounds from the frontlines of the revolution LIVE & direct to you. Listen and become part of the MicroRadio.NET Emergency Broadcasting System, as we cross the digital divide and smash thelnformation Blockade. The rEvolution comes to *your* local FM dial as soon as you tune in, download and broadcast. To *participate* in any emergency broadcast, there are 3 (three) Emergency Broadcasting System affinity groups. [Pick one and join in the fun:
>>> Emergency Broadcasters Bloc: The EBB is a mobile tactical field unit; they join with the host organization to stream out LIVE audio from and surrounding the event. Music and words for the revolution; live reports and sounds from the streets. The BBB stands @ ground zero pumping out the stream corporate stations never will: Real news from the frontlines of the revolution.
>>> Multiple Mirror Militia: From *anywhere in the world*, you may choose to join the MMM, the Multiple Mirror Militia, even if only for the week. Add your bandwidth to the cause, and a link will be posted to you on MicroRadio.NET to host additional live streams for additional concurrent listeners. Add your bandwidth to the cause; enter the global media battle.
>>> Mosquito Fleet of Micro-FM broadcasters: *If you have a Micro-FM transmitter and an antenna* you can download the LIVE audio stream to your computer, and jack your transmitter into the "audio out" on the back of your computer, and connecting the FM dial in your neighborhood to the Emergency Broadcast System

We were very excited about the possibilities of collective mass-action, but rather than spreading like wildfire, these ideas seemed to sputter. Perhaps it was the quirky 70’s style neo-Marxist’ revolutionary rant. Perhaps it was too abstract a concept. We decided to physicalize it.

2 Usually at 89,1 fm. Extensive documentation on the web at http://monkeywrenchradiuorg
3 Pronounced one letter at a time as in “Eff-You, See, Sea."
4 196/pir8srkew1.html
S httpJ/www.washingtonfi*
6 http;// http://archives.t.hodaily.wasl\
7 For more infomation visit for mp3s and liner notes. [2013]