Copyright © 1999 by the Boston Phoenix, Inc. All rights reserved.

This Just In: Media

Radio in the park

By Dan Kennedy

Radio Free Allston, the low-power, unlicensed community station shut down by the FCC two years ago, will make a temporary comeback this Sunday -- on the other side of the river. On September 26, from 2 to 10 p.m., the Zeitgeist Gallery will host "a day of music and talk" in Sennott Park, at the corner of Broadway and Norfolk Street, in Cambridge.

According to Alan Nidle, one of the organizers, the event -- which will feature some of the old Radio Free Allston shows -- will be broadcast on 106.1 FM. But lest the FCC get its underwear in a knot, Nidle promises that the signal will top out at one watt, extending not much farther than the periphery of the park. Bring your own Walkman or boom box: the radio signal will serve as the public-address system.

The event is being held at the same time that the FCC is considering a rule change that would allow low-power, community-oriented stations such as Radio Free Allston to obtain licenses. The FCC shut the station down in 1997 after nine months of operation. And the crackdown continues: the FCC recently reported that it has closed 507 so-called pirate stations in the past few years. Nevertheless, FCC chairman William Kennard is pushing hard to give at least some low-power outlets a way to operate legally, arguing that such stations are necessary to counterbalance the corporate chains that have come to dominate the radio business. The National Association of Broadcasters, a powerful trade organization, opposes low-power radio, claiming it would create signal interference affecting 35 million Americans.

The FCC recently moved the deadline for its public-comment period on low-power radio from September 17 to November 5. Assuming there are no further delays, the agency is expected to draft regulations shortly thereafter.

At this Sunday's event, Cambridge City Council candidates have been invited to attend and talk about their position on low-power radio. Representatives of neighborhood groups are scheduled to talk about housing, education, welfare, and other issues. The underlying theme is that such subjects could make the airwaves regularly if community stations could be licensed.

"We just want to urge the FCC to legalize this and show their support for it," says Nidle, one of the forces behind Radio Free Cambridge, another low-power operation.

For more information on low-power radio, visit the Radio Free Allston Web site at http://www.radfrall.org.