In 1992 letting your voice be known to a wide, or even local audience, was almost an impossibility for the average person. Outside of those fortunate enough to acquire public access time (which let’s face it, maybe would have generated at the most 20 watchers on a good night) or schmooze a local station owner into giving them a radio show, the common man had nowhere near the freedom or availability to have his own show like he does today via the internet. After all, we’re talking a good 8 years or so before WinAmp hosts offered an economical and widely available alternative and 13 years before YouTube first came on to the scene. Not to mention the fact that if one did have a radio spot, there still existed the need to learn how to man complicated equipment, format and tow a straight line in the eyes of executives and both regulatory and lobby groups.
The radio landscape in 1992 was (much like it is today) dominated predominately by corporate interests and with the exception of a few gems served no greater purpose than to fatten the pocket books of a few station executives. Said station execs would make damn sure at all costs that no one say anything to offend sponsors or cause a P.R. blunder. To do the former meant losing operational capacity and the latter, the wrath of the FCC and its legion of clipboard wielding tyrants who ruled with fury comparable only to a ginger on hall monitor duty.
Outside of a few people who were fortunate enough to obtain licensing, afford rigorous signal testing and compliant equipment, there were not really many options other than to operate what would infamously be called a “pirate radio” station; an unlicensed, unregulated, amateur station that seldom obeyed any FCC regulation and ran with full knowledge of the fact that they were “fugitives of the ether”, so to speak.
However, some took a bit of a different approach and went into a gray area in-between the two, simply calling themselves “unlicensed, low power radio stations.” They conducted and organized themselves like a major station, however with much shorter reach and without a license. One of those individuals, was a man by the name of Bill Dougan, who lived in Pheonix, Arizona, where he ran a long running unlicensed station named KAPW, later “Arizona Free Radio” in the backyard of his home.
Mr. Dougan from all accounts was an avowed liberal with few exceptions (namely a dislike for multiculturalism and big government) and likewise started the station because he hated what he called the “right wing hate radio” that dominated the airwaves. To me it wouldn’t be a stretch that judging by this article from 1995 by the Phoenix New Times that he was fairly close to being either a more tolerable pre-cursor to the modern SJW or at least a very left leaning libertarian. It’s also safe to say that should I have listened to his station, I would probably have immediately turned the dial, as we have similar “Radio Free” themed stations in Atlanta which are akin to audible diarrhea and an apt solution to insomnia to boot. However, my feelings on the content are not the point though. The point is that Mr. Dougan had a message, had a way of transmitting the message and wanted to fill a niche that was not being filled on the air-waves at the time and was going to fight for a his right to communicate said views over the radio waves. To me, this is a noble goal and one in which people from all sides of the political spectrum can find a common bond.
I use past tense when referring to Arizona Free Radio because I could not find any more information about Mr. Dougan’s station past the article linked above. What I do know though is that the station ran from 6-10 and had a radius shorter than some people’s walkie talkies and ran until at least 1995. According to Mr. Dougan in an interview with William Cooper on Hour Of The Time in 1992, it didn’t even reach outside of his county. This little percieved transgression of their almighty authority was enough to draw the ire of our favorite gingers, the FCC. The FCC then felt compelled to come to Mr. Dougan’s house one night while broadcasting and temporarily force him to shut down his station, fining him $17,500 in the process.
To get the full story straight from the mouth of the horse, I suggest listening to the full interview that he did with William Cooper on Hour Of The Time from Jan. 19, 1993 (it’s 7 parts, so please go to the next part after part 1 is done).
Long story short, Mr. Dougan decided to fight and was involved in a legal battle with the FCC, defending himself on grounds that they had no jurisdiction to shut him down due to the fact that FCC only had the right to regulate radio signals used for interstate and intrastate commerce. Since he was doing neither nor impeding a registered signal having tested his broadcast signal himself, he argued that they had no jurisdiction. According to William Cooper on that same episode of Hour Of The Time he was successful in getting back on the air and stayed on the air sporadically as far as I know until at least 1995. The amount of success he actually had though in his fight is open to interpretation, as according to legal records that I found he failed to appeal the $17,500 fine he was given by the FCC and as stated in the Phoenix New Times piece, never paid it either.
Mr. Dougan suffered a lot of stress at the hands of government regulation and did not back down in spite of it all. The fact of that matter is that he saw Freedom of Speech and freedom to use the airwaves and other forms of communication as a RIGHT and not a privilege.
But here we are 25 years later, in a climate that is favorable to citizen media by way of the internet, where the ability and resources that we have to voice our opinions are readily available to use and many still dare not use it or even worse call for it to be censored and regulated. And if those hard regulations do come, which they will happen if we do not prevent them, are we going to just let free and open access to media get swept under the rug? Are we going to surrender it for the sake of what some people may erroneously call “the common good” or “sensitivity”? Or are we going to be Bill Dougans and actually stand up for our right to be heard and freely use mediums of communication?