Friday, 6 March 2009

A Micro Radio Manifesto

by Tetsuo Kogawa

Micro radio used to be a compromise to restrain oneself from using higher power transmitter because of the financial or regulatory reason. The first conscious micro radio started in the mid-1970s in Italy. As Félix Guattari wrote, "des millions et des millions d'Alice en puissance", over a thousand of micro free radio stations appeared along with the 'Autonomia' movement in Italy and then influenced other countries especially France. In Australia, the situation was different. Under the clever decision of Whitlam government, many cities started to have a new type of multi-lingual and multi-cultural community radio stations in the late 70s. In Japan, "Mini FM" boom began in the early 80s. It was a totally different type of micro radio: radio with literally micro-powered transmitter. It was a miracle that such a micro radio did work as a radio. So, the micro radio scene of the 80s was a mixture of the Italian free radio and a new element of the technological paradox.

After the late 80s, micro "pirate" stations in the US went into a new legal struggle against the authority for popular demands: Napoleon Williams' Black Liberation Radio in Illinois and then Stephen Dunifer's Free Radio Berkeley were famous. In 2000, FCC started a new license category "LPFM" (Low power FM). This means that the micro radio in the US is institutionalized and also that those who transmit without license are considered as illegal. The early dream of micro radio paradise is over. Even such a micro enclave is now controlled by the system. It would be no surprise because nowadays every control invades into not only individuals but also thier cerebral space. However, I still believe that micro radio can be located in different levels from the institutionalized space.

What do you intend to say by micro? In the core of the movements, "micro" of micro radio meant something beyond the mere size of transmitting power and service area. It connotes something qualitatively different. micro means diverse, multiple, and polymorphous. If micro does not mean small in physical size, then even physically bigger radio station could become micro. Micro radio is an alternative to mass medium and global communications that could cover the globe with the qualitatively same and patterned information. But even bigger medium is not always mass medium.

Today, our microscopic space is under technologically control and surveillance. Our potentially diverse, multiple nad polymorphous space is almost homogenizee into a mass. Therefore we need permanent effort to deconstruct this situation. In order to do this, to use a very low-power transmitter is worth trying. Small transmitter can be easily made by your own hands. But more than that. Theoretically you can do the same thing by high-power transmitter but it will deceive your perception what the micro is becase you have been surrounded by numerous high-power transmissions of conventional radio. We have to use a kind of "phenomenological bracketting" to perceive what the things are.

LPFM covers up to 100 watts. "Community FM" in Japan (which was legally introduced as an institutionalized "Mini FM") allows 10 watts now (initially up to 1 watt). I think even these power levels are too much for micro radio. What about one watt? What about below one watt? Such a micro-power radio station could cover only a street block radius or only a housing complex. Why not? Leon Theremin showed the minimum example of micro radio. His invention is not only a musical instrument but also a micro radio.

Given the age of various global means such as the satellite communications and the Internet, micro radio can concentrate itself into its more authentic territory: microscopic airwave space.

Why don't you go to a radio station just as you did to theatres. Micro radio theatre could be possible. The airwaves cover only a housing space. That is enough. I have been organizing micro radio party. This is an attempt to change a space to a qualitatively different by a micro transmitter.

Let's start with your own familiar space. Change in a tiny space could resonate to larger space but without microscopic change no radical change would be possible.

Alternative medium tends to establish its own physical "home base." But, as Hakim Bey argues, the today's alternative "home base" is relevant only as "Temporary Autonomous Zone (T.A.Z.)." There is an another way: a method of "in exile". After WBAI was controlled by commercial money, some of the programs such as "Democracy Now" started their program with a and a micro radio. "Democracy Now" rented a space in Lower East Side of New York and their program was broadcast as "WBAI in Exile". I think that in a sense radical radio is always did a good job n a certain sort of "exile": Radio Veritas, Manila in the 80s and B92 in the 90s. Internet is basically translocal medium. Different from printing medium, the space exits temporally and is out of geographical-physical location. Who cares where you are transmitting. You can maintain a "permanent" space with your lisners as long as you and your listners agree with communicating. When I met Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now" and asked if ther style using "low-tech" (their facilities and studio space) might derive from the micro radio culture, she denied my question as if I had not enough appreciated their activity. Of course it was not what I meant. Although WBAI is coming back to an authentic radical radio station again, the "in exile" form of collaboration (where independent micro units in exile can link together) is much more newer and viable. Given various "global" technology of linkage and relay, micro radio is enough in size for the unit of radio station.

As a means to cover larger area, airwaves are wasteful and not ecological. Big radio is no more necessary. Sooner or later, large and global communication technologies will be integrated into the Internet. Radio, television and telephone will become local nodes to it. Thus globalists will discard such exiting medium. A new type of multi-media terminal linking to the internet will appear. So it is the time when radio and television (and even telephone) must re-find their own emancipating possibility. Micro radio station will re-find a possibility of getting-together space such as theatre and club. It will not reject global medium but will use them as a linking and networking means. By translocal micro medium, even global medium could become polymorphous and diverse (not only in the contents but also in the style to let people encounter).