Feds raid 10-watt radio station
By DANIEL BARLOW Southern Vermont Bureau | June 23,2005
JON OLENDER / RUTLAND HERALD
A microphone was one of the few pieces of broadcasting equipment left after the FCC raided radio free brattleboro early Wednesday.
BRATTLEBORO — U.S. marshals raided the downtown studios of radio free brattleboro Wednesday morning and seized its broadcasting equipment because the 10-watt community station does not have a license.
It is the second time in two years the community radio station, which broadcasts at 107.9 FM, has been forcibly shut down by the Federal Communications Com-mission.
"Pirate radio? They're the ones that are more like pirates," said Larry Bloch, one of station's co-founders. "They're like vigilantes. They came here early in the morning and took all our equipment."
The 7 a.m. raid of rfb's studios comes more than a year after attorneys representing the FCC said a seizure of the station's equipment was not "imminent."
But, in an April 13, 2005, letter to rfb's attorney, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Drescher wrote the "law enforcement intentions of the federal government have changed" and that a seizure of the equipment was being considered.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerome Niedermeier, based in Burlington, signed a search warrant for the station's equipment on Tuesday, according to court documents. The warrant applied to "equipment associated with or used in connection with any radio transmissions."
"Radio free brattleboro has continued to operate without a license and we are duty-bound to enforce the law," Drescher said Wednesday when asked why the FCC changed positions on a seizure.
Calling the move "highly unusual," rfb attorney James Maxwell said the FCC might have lost patience waiting for Judge J. Garvan Murtha to issue a ruling in the agency's civil case against rfb in Brattleboro's federal court system.
The two sides first battled it out in court on March 15, 2004; following the court debate, Murtha requested more information from the FCC and has not yet issued a ruling. Last month, the FCC filed a motion for summary judgment in the case.
"I can only guess that their recent motion was intended to divert attention away as they did an end run around the court here and obtained a warrant in Burlington," Maxwell said. "If that's the way they want to play ball, fine."
Drescher, also based in Burlington, said he requested a search warrant from Niedermeier because both courts are part of the Vermont district court system.
The FCC has been trying to shut down rfb since it was first reported in 2003 that the station's signal was interfering with the signal of a Massachusetts public radio station.
The station launched in July 1998 and is run by a collective of about 70 volunteers who host their own shows. The station has no commercials and members encourage local residents to sign up and host their own shows.
After the first FCC visit to the studio in June 2003, the station stayed off the air for more than a month before resuming broadcast after collecting several thousands signatures from supportive listeners.
Nonbinding resolutions of support from the Brattleboro Select Board and residents at town meeting followed. Maxwell has argued the FCC favors large corporations and that the station can continue broadcasting because it has support from the community.
FCC agents measured rfb's signal distance during trips to Brattleboro on March 30 and again on Tuesday, according to court documents, and found the signal was still stronger than allowed for unlicensed low-power radio transmissions.
Wednesday's raid occurred shortly before 7 a.m. when no DJs or station volunteers were in the studio. The station was playing a tape of pre-recorded shows.
Drescher said he did not know how many marshals were involved in the raid or how they gained access to the apartment from where the station broadcasts.
Among the items seized were two computers, a mixing board, two turntables, a transmitter, antenna, microphone and headphone amps, minidisk player, two cassette decks and two CD players, according to Bloch.
The total value of the items is about $15,000, he said.
Station members had planned to shut down later this year once Vermont Earthworks, a local nonprofit group that recently received a 100-watt license from the FCC, began broadcasting as a community-based, noncommercial station.
"They could be up and running as early as this fall," Bloch said.
Maxwell said he regrets allowing the station's case seeking court protection from an FCC raid to be dismissed last year. At the time, it appeared the FCC would not choose that path and he did not argue against a motion to dismiss the case, he said
The station has 30 days to respond to the seizure — which is now considered a separate civil suit against the station filed out of the Burlington court — but Maxwell would not say Wednesday if he would do so.
"We're considering a number of options right now," he said. "Needless to say, we will be filing something somewhere pretty soon."
On the Net: www.RFB.fm and www.FCC.gov.
Contact Daniel Barlow at firstname.lastname@example.org.