Archive for October, 2005

Religious broadcasting networks: The Clear Channel of low-power FM radio

Oct 27, 2005 in Current Events

A Boston-area high school radio station has been pushed off the air by a California-based religious broadcaster in a recent FCC ruling. Maynard High School’s WAVM-FM has been broadcasting for over 30 years, and dozens of student DJs have gone on to work in broadcasting careers.

WAVM recently applied for a signal strength increase from 10 to 250 watts; a process which allows other broadcasters to bid on their frequency. The FCC in turn awarded WAVM’s frequency to Living Proof, Inc on the basis that they would be able to “provide first or second primary [noncommercial radio] service to the largest number of people in the community.”

Organized, monied religious broadcasting networks have been cannibalizing the non-commercial and low-power spectrum across the country for a number of years. Broadcasters such as Calvary Chapel (CSN International), American Family Association Radio, and EMF Broadcasting have built cheap networks of low-powered FM translators, which were originally intended to boost local radio signals in weak areas. These translators are used to retransmit nationally syndicated religious programming in areas where the broadcasters often have no local presence.

CSN Int’l, the largest of these broadcasters, currently operates 361 of these translators across the country. The Boston Globe article linked above notes that the president of Living Proof has ties to Calvary Chapel, which has previously been linked to Radio Assist and Edgewater Broadcasting, two large Christian broadcasting networks owned by the same ex-CSN employee.

Radio Assist/Edgewater applied for over 4000 radio translator construction permits during a five-day application window in 2003. The broadcaster has since been awarded over 1000 of these (free) permits, over 80 of which have been sold or traded for profit. DIYmedia reports that Radio Assist/Edgewater made over $800,000 trading translator permits, mostly to other Christian stations and networks.

Community and media activists have been pushing for years for low-power FM (LPFM), a format that would allow small non-commercial community stations to develop and prosper. The FCC approved the LPFM format five years ago, and since then, several hundred LPFM stations have sprouted up across the country. About half of these stations belong to churches and religious groups.

Activists fear that the rush of large religious broadcast networks for FM translator permits endangers the budding LPFM movement. The FCC instituted a freeze on new translator permits in March, in response to petitions from LPFM activist groups.

Another strategy of religious broadcasters has been to attempt to piggyback on small non-profit educational frequencies, many belonging to schools and colleges who are unable to broadcast 24 hours a day. These broadcasters are attempting to take advantage of an obscure rule that can force stations to share their airtime if they broadcast for less than 12 hours a day. Fortunately, these can be overcome if stations purchase automation systems that allow them to broadcast 24/7.

The WAVM debacle illustrates that the large religious broadcasters’ urge to evangelize comes at the expense of non-profit, community and educational stations. The FCC’s tacit acceptance of this situation serves to blur the boundary between government and organized religion. Churches have as much right to be on the air as anybody, but the actions of groups such as CSN, Radio Assist and Edgewater violate the spirit of non-profit community broadcasting.

Observations on the leftist intellectual divide

Oct 18, 2005 in Current Events

A recent article in the Observer illustrates the irreconcilable gap between the impulses of ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘universal human rights’ in today’s liberalism.

(Cultural relativism) “promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than respect for human beings. Human beings are worthy of the highest respect, but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must they be respected?”

…(Cultural relativism) follows the fine and necessary principle of tolerance, but ends up having to tolerate the oppression of women, say, or gays in foreign cultures while opposing misogyny and homophobia in its own… The alternative is to support universal human rights and believe that if the oppression of women is wrong, it is wrong everywhere.

That’s a lot to think about. Many people complain about liberal relativist attitudes, especially towards the Muslim world. On one hand, their cultural traditions deserve as much respect as ours. On the other hand, some of their practices include the oppression of women, supression of free speech and advocating the murder of non-Muslims. But does the existence of the latter necessarily invalidate positive attitudes toward the former?

And the problem with the alternative “universal” approach is that it can be applied towards any cause or idea, even when it’s not practical or desirable. Replace “the oppression of women” with “abortion,” for example.

Trade union leaders stormed out of the anti-war movement when they discovered its leadership had nothing to say about the trade unionists who were demanding workers’ rights in Iraq and being tortured and murdered by the ‘insurgents’ for their presumption.

Another problem with the left is the wide array of causes that often fall under the umbrella of liberalism. And everybody wants their cause to be important. It’s practically become a cliche that whenever the left gets together for a big anti-war protest (replace “anti-war” with any other big cause) the speakers on the podium shout slogans for every leftist cause under the sun. (See this recent Daily Show clip for an example)

“No more war!” (Thunderous applause)
“Energy independence!” (More applause)
“Pro choice!” (Modest applause)
“Israel out of Palestine!” (Weak applause)
“Fur is murder!” (Crowd mills about looking for the gyro cart)

This is why I’m not an idealist. Even though many leftist/liberal causes are admirable, the fact is that it takes popular support for them to become a reality. And that can’t be done as long as these causes remain the exclusive domain of secular leftists.

Guess who’s threatening our freedom of dissent? You are, if you report your fellow citizens to the Secret Service!

Oct 07, 2005 in Current Events

Things like this make me very concerned that our freedoms are being eroded under Bush and his sympathizers. A high school student’s anti-Bush photo was confiscated by the Secret Service after the photo department at the local Wal-Mart contacted police about it. The photo was part of a class assignment where students were encouraged to express their right to dissent guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Far from it. Last year, a 15-year-old boy’s anti-Bush drawings were confiscated for similar reasons. Another student was investigated over an anti-Bush t-shirt. A girl was investigated over a post in her LiveJournal. And there’s many more that have never made the news.

The Secret Service is obligated to investigate any “threats” against the president, and they dutifully follow up on all reports they receive. But a person who expresses dissent against the president, no matter how tasteless that expression may be, does not automatically mean that person is a threat to the president.

If you have to report someone to the authorities simply because you disagree with their constitutionally protected political expression as it relates to the president, then you are a fucking pussy. You don’t like what that person is saying, so you’re going to subject them to questioning and harrasment by the Secret Service. Ultimately, it does little to make the president or our country safer, and it erodes our guaranteed right to free speech by instilling a climate of fear and intimidation.

Adventures in Ethnic Music

Oct 02, 2005 in Music

I’ve been wanting to write about ethnic music for a while. By this I mean the indigenous varieties of world music that sound so much different than anything that Americans are used to, although international variations on uniquely American musical styles are quite interesting too. I’ve found myself listening to more international music in recent months, mainly because of the sheer variety, novelty and beauty of it.

The first thing I implore you to do is check out eMusic.com. They’ve got the 50 free mp3s offer going on right now, and they have a great selection of independent and international music. For that matter, iTunes or any other good music download service can help you find good stuff.

I’d like to start in the early 20th century with Yazoo’s Secret Museum of Mankind series. This is a collection of early ethnic music taken from rare 78s, from a period just before technological progress began to displace indigenous cultures. Here are some mp3s from the series:

Yazoo also has other compilations of Irish, Polish, Bulgarian and Jewish klezmer music. Right now I’m listening to The Music of Madagascar, a collection of early Malagasy music. Malagasy music is strangely melodic and beautiful, with soaring harmonies. Here’s the first track from the compilation:

Sufi devotional music, or qawwali, is specifically designed to bring listeners into trance. The foremost exponent of qawwali was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who achieved worldwide reknown in the 1990s. Khan was known for his embrace of western musical styles (there are pop and techno versions of his songs) and he performed with musicians such as Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder. Khan’s qawwalis start out slow, but gradually increase to a fevered, ecstatic pitch, with a moderate degree of improvisation.

Abita Parveen is currently the most popular qawwali singer, and definitely the most popular female exponent of the style. Instead of the crescendos and improvisation of Khan’s music, Parveen sticks to the poetical forms of the kafi or ghazal. Once you get past the occasionally cheesy strings, Parveen’s music is quite beautiful indeed.