Who Owns the Airwaves?

A couple of years ago, when all of the hullabaloo about the switch from analog to digital TV stations was passed and actually became mandatory, I was a little bit surprised that there weren’t more paranoid skeptics out there going, “Tsk, Tsk, Tsk another ploy by Big Brother to get us to buy stuff and watch stuff,” etc. It seemed what should have been and could have been maybe a very deep debate about our freedoms and limitations and potential for monopolies was quickly silenced. Do I sense this might have stemmed from complacency on the big part of media makers to go along with more methods of control (read: more ways to track and monitor the users of cable and other ways to prevent and penalize those people who figure out how to wire/hack and steal cable)? Yeah, that is what I think. But one of the more interesting theories I found floating out in cyberspace was from this guy who has posts up on his blog where people speculated on all sorts of paranoid things, such as:

1. All the nice, new HDTVs covertly have tiny cameras built into them, and they must all be plugged into a digital box or wire because Big Brother is secretly using our TVs to take a look/listen inside all of our homes

2. Because Analog streaming seems to be more instaneous (which may or may not be physically or technically possible, nor the truth) there is more of a chance for censorship via HD, because there is that extra time lag where the censors can come in with their bleeps and their edits and take out all the “fun” stuff from live TV. (Which really is a joke in itself, if you think about it because live TV by it’s very nature is only the finely sifted hand-selected crap that the broadcasters and advertisers choose to present to us anyway… but I digress.

3. And possibly the best one I’ve heard yet, though not from the above-mentioned blog, now with the box installed and the potential for digital to be constantly streaming, Big Brother can covertly send subliminal messages into our homes~even when the tube is off~to get us to buy more, spend more, hang out on the couch more and eat more fast food. (Because there hasn’t been/isn’t already a ba-jillion other screens/channels/radio spots/product inserts/inter-stitials/product drops/promotions etc. in all of the other media/aspects of our lives for these messages to get passed around. Right).

Basically, I’m not too worried. I don’t subscribe to the most paranoid notions out there (well, for the most part… at least I don’t let them distract me to the point of delusion).

But what I did get to thinking about was, what happened to all of that airspace that used to be occupied by commercial micro-waves transmitting their messages via pretty color dot matrices and audio clips, bouncing off of everything; bouncing all around us, hitting us in the head when we walk down the street, bouncing off our pets, our houses, our cars. What happened to all of the waves? Does this mean that all of that airspace is now free and un-occupied?

Well, it didn’t just go away; it is still out there.

When I was in college (the first time) I went to University of Arizona and I was a DJ and then a music director at the campus radio station (KAMP). At that time, KAMP was vying with the FCC to please, please, please let us have airspace. We were applying for a license to broadcast via radio waves http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/howtoapply.html We wanted a frequency and a low-power transmitter so that we wouldn’t have to be limited to just streaming on the Internet and iPod shows and on-campus cable TV (which, now that I think about it, that was all pretty advanced. That was 1999! There are college stations NOW who don’t do live streaming… aye yay-yay, I digress again).

Anyway, the big problem was, we were too close to Mexico. We were constantly being told that Mexican stations owned about half of the airwaves down that close to the border.

Back in those days, there was a actually a collective of randy non-U of A-affiliated radio bandits who managed to make their own little radio “station” and get around the FCC’s strict requirements and mean limitations for transmitting your own original content. These guys were known as Radio Limbo, and you could never really be sure where to find them on the dial, because their frequency was rumored to change. The myth goes, these guys wanted Free Radio, so they built their own transmitter in a remote location (to get around having to apply for the FCC license and submit to their strict regulations on content–what you could and could not air–you know, decency standards and all that fun stuff). Anyway, they were happily broadcasting from their desert shack on the outskirts of town, or their U-Store-It rental unit, or something, when they got wind that the FCC might be on to them. So the story goes, they they broke down the transmitter and rebuilt it in a van. And for the last year or two that they were in existence, they drove around Tucson, broadcasting their music, news and editorial programming from whereever the hell they pleased (read: where ever they could be under the radar from authorities–which isn’t easy in Tucson! You know… that close to the border? In addition to state and local cops, you have any idea how many Border Patrol agents are creeping around down there?? Lots!)

I know I just went off on a tangent into the radio world (insert Radio Limbo joke). But my point about the free waves remains…

I started to think about the potentiality of a generation of “air pirates” who might embrace these newly emancipated TV waves, and use them for the spread of good. Oh, I don’t know… just think of the possibilities for your art, for your soap box, for your sanity. For an underground movement?

Hey, I wonder if they still sell that “How to Build Your Own Pirate Radio Transmitter” ‘zine at Left Bank Books….


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