August 1, 2004

We're Cooking Now: Updates on some media activist efforts

Regular readers of Third Coast Press are familiar with my regular entrees into the scene of media politics and media activism. There are a lot of bite-sized updates to share this month, so here's a smorgasbord of what's happening lately with some past media-related stories previously covered in Third Coast Press. Bon appetit.

(1) CAN TV: May 5 ordinance passes key hurdle.

The June 2004 issue of Third Coast Press included a report on a city ordinance that would help future funding of CAN TV, Chicago's public access cable television network. On May 5, Alderman Bernard Stone introduced an ordinance to dramatically improve the funding for CAN TV. A key flashpoint for the ordinance came with the City Finance Committee hearing on June 18.

In response, supporters and organizers for CAN TV lobbied both the mayor's office and the Chicago City Council, and the Committee faced a packed audience at City Hall on June 18. The City Finance Committee debated the matter for more than an hour, but in the end, the organizing efforts succeeded as the Committee unanimously approved the ordinance. The ordinance is now slated to enter another committee (you know how these ordinances go) and is expected to come to a City Council vote in the fall -- probably in September.

The issue still needs popular support, as the ordinance winds its way through the corridors of Chicago politics. People who are still interested in the learning the latest on the issue and how to help should contact CAN TV at 312/738-1400 or go online at

(2) Low Power FM Radio: In the Senate, one step closer to law.

Our March 2004 issue included a report on two radio projects. We'll discuss Air America radio in a moment, but first there's good news regarding the initiative to deploy on a wide scale the number of Low Power FM (LPFM) radio stations inside the United States. On February 19, the FCC made its (long overdue) recommendation to Congress to increase the number of LPFM stations from the approximately 200 currently in use to about 1000 or more. (Some estimates say that a city the size of Chicago stands to gain anywhere from 10 to 25 low-power FM radio stations.) On that same day, the relevant Senate liaison -- Commerce Committee chair (and Arizona Republican) John McCain -- released a statement saying he would do everything he could to make the FCC's recommendations into law.

On June 4, McCain kept his word as he introduced the Low Power Radio Act of 2004 before the Senate. There's strong support in the Senate for this Act, and a number of analysts believe that this Act will become law before the end of the year. However, the corporate media lobby, despite being in a rare defensive position, will not take this Act lying down. You can help support the beginnings of a low-power non-commercial community radio network in Chicago and nationwide. Contact your senators by visiting, and refer to S. 2505, the Low Power Radio Act of 2004. Or visit the Reclaim Radio project of the group Free Press at for the latest.

(3) Where's Air America, and when is it coming back to Chicago?

That same March 2004 article talked about a then-to-debut radio network from a company called Progress Media. That radio network was dubbed Air America Radio (an ironic name, since Air America was the name given to an airline owned by the CIA and used during the CIA's secret wars in Laos in the 1970s). Chicago was the first city to be approved for Air America programming, and the network had a number of key connections to Chicago.

Air America debuted on March 30, and Chicago's WNTD (AM 950) aired the network -- for exactly one month. Air America was leasing time from Multicultural Radio Broadcasting (MRB), a company that owns WNTD and another Air America affiliate in Los Angeles. On April 14, MRB pulled Air America from its affiliates because of claims of unreceived payments and a bounced check. Air America said its nose was clean, and took MRB to court. Air America then won an injunction against MRB to get the network back on the air, but as part of the subsequent settlement, Air America ceased broadcasting on WNTD on April 30, leaving Chicago without an on-air Air America affiliate.

In the meantime, Air America is looking to return to Chicago, and is currently exploring some possibilities. In the meantime, Chicago-area listeners can listen to Air America on XM Satellite Radio channel 167 or online at (where they can learn the latest about a return to Chicago's airwaves).

(4) Court case against the FCC and Big Media: We win!

In Third Coast Press' January 2004 issue, I eviscerated an op-ed by the Chicago Tribune about changes wrought by the FCC. The issue was the FCC's then-proposed new media ownership rules, which would have accelerated media concentration and made an already lousy media environment far worse. The issue brought historically unprecedented levels of protest against the FCC, despite near-zero coverage by the major media (because Big Media was poised to cash in big on the rule changes).

On September 3, 2003, attorneys from the Media Access Project won an emergency court order blocking implementation of the rules until a lawsuit against the rules could be heard. On February 11, 2004, a case against the FCC was brought before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. And on June 24, 2004, a ruling in the case was announced. We won.

The court ruled that the FCC's rule changes were not warranted by the spurious logic the FCC used to justify the rules. The FCC was forced back to the starting gate, to either better justify its rules or rewrite the rules to the satisfaction of the court. In the meantime, the block against the rules will remain in place.

The FCC might appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. But no matter what, the FCC and its Big Media allies can't mount another attack on the rules for many months, perhaps years. Corporate media outlets that were salivating over the rule changes, including Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp and Chicago's very own Tribune Company, have retreated for the moment in this face of this popular victory. Expect Big Media to try again to get the rule changes it wants, and expect an energized media democracy movement to again answer the call."