January 2, Episode Twenty-Nine: Finding Our Voices
December has been a difficult month for Pattie as she recovers from pneumonia. She still has a croaky voice that forced us to get creative for this week's episode. We used this occasion to reflect not only upon 2002, but also upon the need for people's voices to be heard and our own particular need to speak out and to have others listen. This episode is a mediation on the state of radio in North America and upon our own desire to produce radio.
On May 1, 2002, a number of webcasters protested the process by which the Librarian of Congress arbitrated royalty payments for Internet radio. Because the board that oversees the process is called the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP), the theme for the day at the Live365.com website was "stinky fish." In support of this effort, Pattie co-produced an episode of Women on Air at CFUV-FM with then-Women's Radio Collective Coordinator Geraldine Bulosan, dedicated to the protest. Included in that show was an interview that Geraldine did with Pattie. We are re-airing that interview in its entirety.
Our first foray into radio started on June 20, 2001, when we came up with a simple idea for an Internet radio show: We like to talk. We like to drink coffee. We like to go to coffee shops and talk and drink coffee. Why not do a show where we go to a coffee shop, drink coffee and talk about the world around us? We recorded 30 episodes of "Coffee Shop" over the next 14 months, and each one was encoded using our own computer and made available to listeners on the Internet via the LIVE365.com website. Subsequent "decisions" by the U.S. Library of Congress and by LIVE365 made it impossible for us to continue to use the latter to host the project without the ludicrous consequence of our paying "royalties" on our own intellectual property. We offer today a sample of "Coffee Shop" excerpts from Episode 6: The Freedom to Be Heard.
What do you do if you produce a radio show and you lose your voice? This question became a practical one during the month of December in Pattie's life as she recovered from a bout of pneumonia. The timing wasn't that bad. Reruns of "First person, Plural" had been planned for the Christmas season. She had a chance to recover and find her voice again. But the infection has had other ideas, and her voice remains too croaky and strained to carry her through an hour-long show. This setback has led to a creative solution for this week's episode of "First Person, Plural."
Pattie's inability to speak has reminded us how important radio has become to us. For the past 19 months, we have produced a radio show of some sort or another almost every week. Today we will spend some time sharing some of our early efforts and telling our own oral history in radio. Since one calendar year has come to an end and another is beginning, it seems appropriate to reminisce about our experiences in radio in 2002 and to reflect upon the state of radio in North America.
Radio seems to be the most democratic of media. It does not require the high production costs of television or the natural resources production of books and newspapers. Receivers are cheap to acquire, so even the poorest of people often have access to the broadcast waves. One need only be able to talk or listen to use a radio. Literacy isn't even a requirement. Attempts to regulate and contain radio have remained futile, with the emergence of new technologies and the implementation of simple will-power thwarting efforts to abolish so-called pirate radio in spite of heavy penalties. One of the most poignant moments after the abolishment of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was when the people of Kabul celebrated in the streets by bringing out their contraband radios and musical instruments. It seems that even though broadcasting and playing music was forbidden during Taliban rule, the citizens of Kabul had these devices hidden in their basements and walls, awaiting the day when they could use them again. Even under the most oppressive conditions, where such an action could mean death or imprisionment, people saved their radios.
In March 2001, self-described "Alley Reporter" Robert W. McChesney published an article called "Farewell to Radio." Agreeing with our assessment that radio is the, quote, quintessential people's medium, close quote, McChesney laments the closing of this medium to the people in the United States:
Quote, In the United States, however, radio is anything but the people's medium. It is the private preserve of a small number of billionaires who are falling all over themselves to better serve the needs of Madison Avenue. I do not wish to romanticize the nature of U.S. broadcasting from bygone days, but the fact is that the present day radio is nothing short of pathetic, close quote.
McChesney goes on to outline the ways in which so-called reforms in US broadcasting laws during the 1990s led to a monopoly on radio through the oppression of low-power FM radio broadcasting and arbitrary limits on the number of broadcasting bands in the new digital age. With digital, more stations are technically possible, but their implementation is legally restricted.
Quote, In other industries, like computers or automobiles, there might be arguments that having fewer owners is necessary for economies of scale that will eventually translate into product innovation and lower prices for consumers. No such claims can be made in radio. All the advantages accrue to the owners, none to the public. The stations now cost a fortune, not because the cost of production is high, but because stations are worth so much as part of these massive radio chains [such as Clear Channel, which owns around 800 stations in the United States]. It is a rip-off, pure and simple. And the rip-off has nothing to do with free markets, it is entirely due to a corrupt change in the law regulating the publicly owned radio spectrum. The rational solution would be to only allow one station per owner, period. The cost of stations would plummet, while the quality and diversity and local orientation would skyrocket. Everyone would benefit except the radio-owning billionaires who currently floss their teeth with politicians' underpants. So don't hold your breath expecting any policies to improve matters, close quote.
Since this 2001 article, the same kind of monopolistic tendencies have arrived on the Internet. The passing of the same kinds of laws in the late 1990s pushed for royalties not only for the artists but for the recording companies that produce music. The holder of those royalties is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This is a convoluted royalty because many of the broadcasters who pay the royalties also own the recording companies that collect the royalties through their membership with RIAA. Royalty arbitration with the largest of these companies, Yahoo Radio and AOL/Time Warner, was settled in 2001, but the next level of broadcasters, including sites that catered to hobbyists and micromedia broadcasters settled their royalty fees through arbitration in the first half of 2002. The agreement made with these websites was similar to the earlier Yahoo and AOL agreements, based on actual play time rather than revenue made from the broadcast. This made sense for the big guys because they could make as much money as possible and not have to pay more royalties. But for the websites which aren't turning a profit, this created a major change in their strategy and it left hobbyists out in the cold.
Before coming to CFUV-FM and creating "First Person, Plural," we produced an Internet radio show called "Coffee Shop." This very low-tech, punkish show consisted of us taking a tape recorder to a coffee date and recording our usual bantering back and forth on topics that interested us. Beginning on June 20, 2001, we aired episodes of "Coffee Shop" on Live365.com, an American website that allowed audio streaming. We got into Live365 early enough in the game to be able to use the site at no charge.
On the surface, one might think that a spoken word show that uses its own original content might not be affected by all the verbiage about royalties that was in the air. After all, we owned the copyrights on all our material and we recorded all our material ourselves, so whom else would there be to pay? Things did not work out this way in 2002, however. After the arbitration decision was announced by the United States Librarian of Congress, which ironically happened on the one year anniversary of our station, "Coffee Shop," Live365, the website through which we broadcasted over the Internet, decided that it was too much trouble to distinguish between those who broadcasted RIAA materials and those who did not. So Live365 announced their plan to begin charging all hobbyists a US$5 a month quote royalty administration fee, close quote. This meant that we would be paying the RIAA $5 a month for permission to broadcast our own copyrighted material. Needless to say, this arrangement was unacceptable to us. We produced 30 episodes over a 14-month period. Our disappointment in Live365's decision was great. We ended production of Coffee Shop in August of 2002.
Many hobbyists such as us opted not to continue with Live365. The prominent webserver's strategy, however, paid off for them in the end. They remain a strong presence on the web, but in our opinion they are a watered-down version of their previous self. Their content is mostly RIAA with little independent or original content. They are just one more member of the broadcast oligopoly, an effect that served the interests of the RIAA well.
The jury is still out in Canada. There are signs that microbroadcasting is in trouble here and that things are not moving in a good direction. Community and campus stations abound, but their funding is in jeopardy and their dependency upon volunteers is increasing while the number of volunteers is not. Low-power FM is also discouraged via its disproportionate subjection to federal bureaucracy. While Internet radio in Canada is not being regulated, it is in practice almost nonexistent. Some Shoutcast stations and others maintaining their own servers exist in Canada, but there is an absence of the kind of bandwidth dedicated to the medium that Live365 essentially gave away pre-CARP. CBC Radio has to guard against attacks from commercial sources and has neglected its positioning among younger audiences. Commercial radio is growing in Canada, and in spite of Canadian content requirements, it is highly connected to US commercial radio. In short, it wouldn't take much for Canadian radio to follow the American way. Much vigilance is needed to prevent this.
On today's episode, we are re-airing an interview of Pattie by Geraldine Bulosan for a Women on Air episode, originally aired May 1, 2002, on CFUV. May 1st was a day of protest by Internet broadcasters concerned about the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel process. We are also going to share a long segment culled from the sixth "Coffee Shop" episode, called "Freedom to Be Heard," originally recorded December 20, 2001, here in Victoria. The sound quality on the coffee shop segment is significantly lower than CFUV standards, but we believe you will enjoy the authenticity of the recording with its cappuccino machines audible in the background.
Join us as we reflect upon the importance of being able to speak freely and broadcast widely in an episode we call "Finding our Voices."
Pattie's losing her voice for the past three weeks created more than a simple obstacle in our lives to be overcome in producing the ubiquitous "next episode" of "First Person, Plural." It reminded us of how important being able to speak has become to us, and indeed, to all people in a free society. Language, with the culture and history that language carries with it, is one of the most powerful inventions yet.
84-year-old Marie Smith-Jones, chief of Eyak Traditional Elders Council in Alaska, presents a case in point. Upon the death of her sister in 1993, Smith-Jones became the last speaker of her native language, called Eyak. Her descendants, influenced heavily by public schools and dominant culture, did not learn Eyak. Except for the part of it retained via anthropological archiving, this oral culture and history will be lost forever when she passes. No one can encapsulate the knowledge that is lost with such a passing. It is in language that knowledge, especially local knowledge, is stored.
The rise of an ecological view of nature during the last 40 years has led to an appreciation of the harmonious ways in which indigenous peoples of this continent managed natural resources. One cannot help but wonder what knowledge has been lost as these cultures were destroyed and their languages blotted off the face of the earth. Were the keys to ecologically sound practices buried with them? As debates about the Kyoto Accord and about greenhouse gases fill our political discourse, wouldn't it be a shame to realize that contemporary Canadians are left with the necessity of reinventing techniques of natural management that may have been available to the original Canadians for hundreds of years. The real shame is that the demise of so many cultures and languages means we can never know exactly what has been lost.
The invention of radio and sound recording could mean that oral traditions and languages have a chance to survive, but only if open access and free exchange of ideas are protected and indeed encouraged. If recordings and broadcasts are dominated by the same imperialistic impulses that continue to wipe out languages at an estimated rate of one every two weeks, then future generations will have only so-called market-driven knowledge upon which to draw. It has become obvious that that will not be good enough to solve whatever problems future societies face.
When we started recording our conversations and airing them on the Internet nearly two years ago, we did so from a purposely naïve assumption that a good discussion deserves archiving. It isn't that we particularly esteemed our own voices over others. It was that we particularly objected to being silenced, or rather drowned out by the mindless repetition that passes for cultural production in most media.
As singer/songwriter Jello Biafra once said, quote Don't hate the media. Become the media, close quote. New technology makes that more possible today than it ever has been. We are indeed privileged to have access to this technology. But the technology alone is not enough. We began our adventure into becoming the media on the Internet. Decisions made by the United States Librarian of Congress and the subsequent decisions of Live365 took away the privilege we had realized from the technology, putting us in the position of either paying royalties on our own material or taking our show off the air. Our experience here at CFUV has been a better one so far, but government and listener funding and a will of the public are more important to this good experience than the technology to create the show. Support for community and campus radio is waning and, like the demise of languages, the demise of public radio will mean the loss of knowledge that may be useful and even vital to the public good.
Silencing voices, preventing people from speaking, has consequences for human society. It may be true that most of what is said will be useless, but we cannot know that until after it has been spoken. Pre-emptive attacks on speech on the basis of colour, creed, status or association produces a silence than society can ill afford.
Audre Lorde, in her paper The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, wrote shortly after discovering that she had breast cancer,
Quote, I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect. … In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believe could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength. I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you, close quote.
Making radio this week has been a struggle that has served to remind us of the greater struggle to protect the freedom to speak and the freedom to be heard. As with lost languages, losing the voices of people with agendas other than to sell something will be costly to the public good. Community and campus radio are among the last places available to collect this knowledge and archive it.
2002 was a mixed year for us. On one hand, we lost a valuable avenue for expression with the CARP decision and Live365's reaction to the decision. On the other hand, we found CFUV and the creation of "First Person, Plural," which has been a new and valuable avenue for expression. We hope that the avenues of support for Canadian public radio continue to exist.
In celebration of this hope, we leave you with a poem, written and recited by Audre Lorde. The poem is entitled "A Song for Many Movements."
copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002
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