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'Review: "Micro Radio And The FCC" By Andy Opel' by Grant Goddard


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Review of the book 'Micro Radio And The FCC' by Andy Opel that studied the micro radio movement in the US, written by Grant Goddard in September 2005 for The Radio Journal.

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'Review: "Micro Radio And The FCC" By Andy Opel' by Grant Goddard

  2. 2. 'Micro Radio And The FCC: Media Activism And The Struggle Over Broadcast Policy' by Andy Opel Published by Praeger, Westport, CT, USA. 2004. In 1970, I returned from my first visit to the United States with a set of walkietalkies purchased from a Woolworth store. Unscrewing the back of one of them, I connected it to two turntables, a microphone and an audio mixer built by a school friend. My mates could now zoom around our Surrey neighbourhood on their bikes, listening on walkie-talkies to me sat at home playing the latest chart hits and talking teenage drivel. I mention this only because I suspect that I was neither the first nor the last kid to find alternative uses for miniature radio transmitters that were on sale openly, without need of a licence, in every American store. However, according to this book, the 'micro radio movement' did not start until 27 November 1986, when a blind African-American plugged in a one-watt transmitter in the living room of his Springfield, Illinois flat and launched Zoom Black Magic Liberation Radio. This single assertion by author Opel performs a disservice to the long history of unlicensed radio in the United States that has been documented by Andrew Yoder’s excellent books on the subject since the 1980s. The glaring omission of Yoder’s name from the six-page bibliography at the back of this book is the first indication that the author has failed to frame America’s recent enthusiasm for Low Power FM radio in the historical context of illegal broadcasting. By his sixth page, Opel is desperate to convince the reader of his radio credentials, offering us the irrelevant information that he was a DJ on his high school radio station “three hours a week for all four years”. Sadly, the book reveals that, since then, Opel has been no more than a bystander on the subject of radio, confining his sources for this book to those available in any university library. From his ivory tower, Opel writes glowingly of “scholars” who become involved in the “media activism” of micro radio, but he is somewhat dismissive of pirate radio operators such as Greg Ruggiero (founder of New York station Steal This Radio) whose writing, according to Opel’s critique, is “lacking the scholarly tone”. Opel’s snobbery is also evident in his fulsome praise of “scholar” Ted Coopman (Master’s thesis: 'Sailing The Spectrum From Pirates To Micro Broadcasters') who argues strenuously that America’s micro radio movement is unrelated to previous pirate radio activism. According to Coopman: “The primary proponents of this movement have already committed their lives to pursuing their definition of social justice, and they view micro radio as an important tool in attaining their goals. Thus, the use of radio is not an end in itself, nor is the right of a particular person…. to broadcast. Rather, micro radio is a means to achieving the principle of democratic communication.” When Opel describes this statement as “a historical point by which to judge the findings” of his book, the reader knows for sure that the author is nailing his Review: 'Micro Radio And The F.C.C.' by Andy Opel ©2005 Grant Goddard page 2
  3. 3. flag to a mast of pure ivory. Nowhere in this book is there any mention of the audiences for these socio-academics’ micro radio stations. Nowhere is there any mention of researching what the audiences of a micro radio station might want to hear. Nothing of the fundamental characteristic of radio technology to communicate a conversation between two empathetic parties can be heard in the staff room banter of Opel and his chums. They view radio as a demonstration of democratic freedom, but the peculiarly American type of freedom that makes selfishness and self-centred action a constitutional right. So the right of an American to open his/her own radio station becomes nothing more than an extension of an American’s right to shoot someone dead, or America’s right to invade a foreign country whose politics it does not like. This credo of 'I am, so I can' permeates America and this book. Opel likes to use language to assert superiority rather than to communicate ideas with his readers, viz: “While many ideas do circulate within and between these categories, there is enough ‘meme-ic’ isolation to warrant the identification of specific categories as opposed to a unified homogeneous movement landscape.” Does working in a university Department of Communication automatically make one’s language so difficult to understand? Opel’s snobby tone is wholly unjustified when he has produced a wafer thin book so lacking in original research. One chapter resembles a quick rifle along the 'recently received' bookshelf of his university’s media studies department. Two chapters are devoted to a précis of posts to the micro radio 'listserv' internet newsgroup, available to anyone with internet access. One chapter examines three years’ press coverage of micro radio, available to anyone with a few newspaper CD-ROMs. Two chapters examine Federal Communications Commission documents, all available from its web site. By the final chapter, Opel admits that “this research covered a small segment of a large, complex social issue”. From page two onwards, Opel tries to draw parallels between micro radio and the environmentalist movement, but he makes not one mention of the radio revolution taking place in every corner of America. By 2004, when this book was published, you could walk in to any U.S. electronics store and legally buy an FM transmitter for less than $50 that can be attached to an i-pod, a computer or a hi-fi system. Choosing your desired FM frequency, you can broadcast whatever you want to your neighbourhood, just as the Japanese have been doing for years. It seems that while Opel was busy toiling away as Assistant Professor at Florida State University, millions of normal Americans were creating their own personal radio stations without having had to write a Master’s thesis about it. They all understand one fundamental point – radio is about communication. Opel has missed that vital point. [Commissioned by The Radio Journal, unpublished] Review: 'Micro Radio And The F.C.C.' by Andy Opel ©2005 Grant Goddard page 3
  4. 4. Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at Review: 'Micro Radio And The F.C.C.' by Andy Opel ©2005 Grant Goddard page 4