SMALL RADIO, BIG STAKES

A BROADCASTER KEEPS AIRING LIBERAL VIEWS TO A TINY PART OF NORTH PHOENIX. THE GOVERNMENT SAYS HE'S BREAKING THE LAW.

Dougan decided to fight the FCC with a lawsuit he filed himself in U.S. District Court. When it became apparent he couldn't fight the FCC without legal aid, he dropped that suit and went lawyer hunting. The lawsuit that attorney filed was dismissed on a jurisdictional technicality. Running short on patience, hope and money, Dougan let the issue rest a while. But he kept listening for news about Dunifer and other free-radio operators. Within a couple of years, he secured another lawyer, Victor Aronow.

On December 20 of last year, Aronow sent the FCC a letter advising the agency that Dougan was about to begin broadcasting again, this time with a 1.7-watt signal at 92.7 FM. The new call letters were KAFR, for "Arizona Free Radio."

After almost three months of operation by KAFR, the FCC has yet to threaten or take any action against Dougan. But Stephen Tsuya, a supervisory engineer at the FCC's office in Douglas, says the question of whether microradio broadcasts are legal is settled.

"They aren't," he says. "They just aren't. We are the body given the authority to license and regulate radio stations, and we don't allow what they're doing. They are breaking the law."

FCC rules say that to obtain a license, a broadcaster must have a signal of at least 100 watts, more than 50 times more powerful than KAFR's. Even 100 watts is not high power for a commercial station; Valley country-music powerhouse KNIX-FM, for example, broadcasts at 100,000 watts. Also, the station must be on the air for at least 36 hours per week. Currently, Dougan's station airs only 20 hours per week.

In a letter sent to Dougan's lawyer last month, the FCC said there is no licensing system for the type of station Dougan operates. Years ago, low-power stations were allowed to operate with a Class D license, but the FCC stopped granting such licenses in 1980.

Aronow also has asked that Dougan's station be licensed as experimental; but the FCC says experimental licenses are not given for low-power FM stations. The commission typically uses experimental licenses for emerging technologies, and broadcast radio can hardly be called "emerging."

"The harm that's done by these unlicensed broadcasters," Tsuya says, "is the interference they can cause to other broadcasters or aircraft radios. Also, we can't just have anybody who wants one to start radio broadcasts. There would be no coherent broadcasting at all if that were the case.

"There would be chaos."

Dougan differs from many other microbroadcasters on the question of FCC licensure. It's fine with him, he says, if licenses for low-power stations are offered for free, or at a reasonable cost.

"I think that the FCC is bound and required to accommodate my request to operate this radio station," Dougan says. "And how they do that is something that has to be worked out."

Not everyone else feels that way. Stephen Dunifer, the operator of the microstation in Berkeley, thumbs his nose at the FCC and any hint of regulation of any kind. Dougan calls Dunifer an "anarchist." His own approach, he says, is more pragmatic: try to play nice with the FCC; see if a compromise can be made.

But that's behind the scenes. As another edition of The People's Forum winds down, Dougan is lambasting newly minted House Speaker Newt Gingrich. After several minutes of vituperation on the subject, highlighted by an assertion that Newt Gingrich is a "bald-faced, hypocritical liar," Dougan finishes up the show with another few seconds of film dialogue. This snippet is from Stand by Me, and is Dougan's personal message for Gingrich:

"Suck my fat one, you cheap, dime-store hood."
With that, the show ends. Now Dougan can put on his slippers, turn off the recorders and the microphones, shut off the lights in his shed and go back into the house with his mother.

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