The Dunifer Decision (1995)

As the founders discussed the possibilities around the wood stove that night, wondering if there was way to start a licensed station (and thinking, at the time, that it was beyond their means), the concept of micropower radio came into the discussion. Microradio was a growing grassroots movement sweeping the country – a combination of civil disobedience and defense of first amendment rights that related to freedom of the press. Similar to the Stamp Act in Revolutionary times, the micropower movement argued that to license the airwaves was akin to charging a tax on printed material (“an abridgment of fundamental rights,” said early Americans), as the British had demanded in pre-Revolutionary America. The micropower movement advocated fuller access to the airwaves by more people. And new technology was making the possibility of such access a reality.

Once upon a time, back around 1934, a radio transmitter and all its supporting gear took up the better part of a room. But by now, the mid-1990’s, solid state and digital technology had miniaturized, sophisticated and streamlined radio gear to the point that one could hold a radio station in one’s hand. This was no mere techo-breakthrough, but the beginnings of a communications revolution that was swiftly moving across the country in many forms: Indy record labels popped up in bedrooms, the world wide web was about to change the way people communicated, and something called, microradio, burst into existence. Bay Area microbroadcaster Stephen Dunifer was its leader – technically, spiritually, and legally in this movement. His recent court case had open some doors to grassroots radio.

The FCC had sued Dunifer for broadcasting using a tiny transmitter without a license. But a series of rulings supporting micropower radio and going against the FCC by Federal District judge, Claudia Wilken kept microradio tacitly legal for nearly three years. Under the protection of courts, the FCC shut down no stations during this period, and hundreds, possibly thousands of unlicensed stations had sprung up around the country during the years before the case was overturned (1998). This kind of radio seemed a possible alternative to the founding members, so they dampened down their wood stove fire, adjourned their meeting, and went into the community to see if there was support for such a station in Lake County.