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FCC Targets Politicos
Kudos to Emily Pyle and the Chronicle for an excellent article on Free Radio ["The Death and Life of Free Radio," June 22]. I'd like to mention an aspect of FCC enforcement that wasn't covered in the article. There are numerous unlicensed FM transmitters in Austin that are unmolested by the FCC, presumably because they have no political content. All of them I observed Sunday (June 24) are much lower power than the stations described in the article but are nevertheless radiating hundreds of times the legally allowable limit. The only unlicensed operation of transmitters in the FM band permitted by the FCC is called "Part 15" (of title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations). The range of a legal Part 15 transmitter is about one residential lot, as it is intended for baby monitors, wireless microphones, and other very short range devices.
If you tune your car radio to 90.1 on North Lamar between Denson and 51st -- a distance of about 1/2 mile -- you will hear a recorded advertisement for an electronics store. They even have a sign on Lamar advising motorists to tune to 90.1. There are churches and schools operating unlicensed transmitters of similar range for the convenience of their patrons. All of these transmitters are no less illegal than the stations in the article. I submit that if you broadcast Noam Chomsky tapes for a quarter-mile radius into your neighborhood you will be promptly busted by the FCC.
The Free Radio Revolution
I enjoyed Emily Pyle's article on microbroadcasting ["The Death and Life of Free Radio," June 22]. As a professional broadcast engineer, this is a subject near and dear to my heart.
Few people in the radio industry approve of what happened as a result of consolidation. We all feel betrayed and helpless. Unfortunately, we like to eat and have places to live, so we do our jobs even though we don't like what the companies we work for represent.
I've watched radio evolve from a locally owned, locally focused medium into the corporate-dominated, mediocre wasteland it is now. I believe low power FM is the only way to preserve the principles of public service, local control, and diversity of ownership. The corporate broadcasters are vehemently opposed to LPFM, and currently have the upper hand.
For LPFM to succeed, the public must be energized in sufficient numbers to challenge the media corporations through grassroots action. Without access to mass media, grassroots efforts cannot succeed. Mass media is owned by the enemy. Catch 22.
In addition to challenging the licensing process, we must also directly challenge broadcasters who have failed to operate in the public interest. At license renewal time, licensees must prove they have upheld the terms of the license. We must challenge those who have not. It will not be possible to win them all, but a few successful challenges would be a serious wake-up call.
Nonviolent action and civil disobedience are necessary, but those of us who want to change radio must also challenge these corporations within the existing rules. It will take a well-coordinated effort. The enemy is politically strong, has unlimited financial resources, and holds most of the cards.
Dial Missing from TFC Story
Thank you for the cover story on the Texas Film Commission in your last issue ["Thirty Years on Location," June 15] -- for this reader it was long overdue. As much as anyone, they have been responsible for helping build the burgeoning film business in Texas and Austin in particular. I was disappointed to see, however, that Brady Dial was not mentioned in your story. As an acquaintance of his, I know that he dedicated seven years to the film commission and was instrumental in bringing many of the biggest films to Texas during that time. It almost seemed like an afterthought when he was mentioned in your "Page Two" column. I know that he has recently left the commission to work for an Austin production company, but since we're giving credit where credit is due, how 'bout a little more appreciation for a man who deserves it?
More Unsung TFC Heroes
Let it never be said that you are a man without a sense of humor. I pester you for most of my seven years at the Texas Film Commission to do an article about us, then you wait until two months after I leave to print one ["Thirty Years on Location," June 15]. You are the undisputed master of the long-term ironic joke. Watch out, though; seven years from now, I may get you back! All kidding aside, though, thanks for the mention in "Page Two," and you were right when you said the staff is made up of unsung heroes. That being said, I'd like to sing the praises of a few folks with whom I served whose names and tenures deserve to be noted.
First off, Lorraine Blancarte (four years), Teresa Potts (three years), and Jodi McKergow (six years) all functioned as the foundation of the TFC by managing office affairs behind the scenes so we could deal with productions efficiently. Mark Shelby (three years), Rita Wagenschein (two years), and Carla Click (five years) all tackled the ponderous task of maintaining our crucial photo files, without which the TFC would be crippled. Equally essential is our Texas Production Manual, which Julia Smith (four years) and Deb Freeman (three years) compiled and published with aplomb. Liz Kline (eight years), Drew Mayer-Oakes (four years), and Walt Wilkins (four years) all scouted in the field with various film and TV projects, covering zillions of miles and enduring some tough situations (and personalities) to bring jobs and money to the citizens of Texas. As for me, I'm now on the other side of the fence as a writer/producer with Trinity Films, and I hope to eventually follow in the footsteps of the late, great Warren Skaaren. Thanks to you and Marc, many more folks will understand that reference. I appreciate that immensely, and I appreciate all the unsung things the Chronicle has done for the Texas film industry over the years.
July 4 Buses
Last year, on the Fourth of July, I called Capital Metro and asked if the busses would be running after the fireworks. I was told that yes they would be in service after the fireworks. I was lied to!
So, I'm wondering if Capital Metro wants everyone to drive their cars to Town Lake/Zilker Park to view the celebration of our nation's birthday or have they figured out a way to serve the community and provide bus service after the fireworks.
Is Capital Metro capable of proving their value to this community or is it too much of a challenge for them?
[Ed note: A Capital Metro spokesperson said that regular bus service did run last year on July 4, although it may have been reduced-hours holiday service. The spokesperson said that shuttle service was being considered for this year's fireworks display, but no decision has been made yet.]
Finish the Ped Project
The caption with the photo of the newly opened James Pfluger Bike/Ped Bridge says "... the new bridge, which takes bicyclists and pedestrians over Town Lake, safely out of the way of Lamar Street traffic." This caption is misleading. The new bridge takes recreational users safely across Town Lake, but non-recreational users (e.g., commuters) are hardly safe as the bridge begins or ends on Cesar Chavez, with no safe access to or from downtown to the north.
As the fantasy of the Seaholm Master Plan continues to circulate around city government, delaying and perhaps killing the planned and permitted completion of the Pfluger Bike/Ped Bridge, the old Lamar Bridge is still the only choice of any commuter cyclist or pedestrian not circulating on the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail. Will someone else have to die on the old bridge before the city wakes up? Finish it!
(For those not understanding the difficulties, try walking or cycling to and from the Bicycle Sport Shop at Lamar and Toomey to Whole Foods at Sixth and Lamar via the new bridge.)
And please, dear editors, do not spread further misinformation about "The Bridge Too Short."
James E. Burnside
The Spinning Wheel Project
Thank you so much for your excellent articles regarding the Yogurt Shop case/trial [June 15]. As I sat and listened to pre-trial hearings, I was astonished to find out just how much control the judge has over what the jury will be allowed to hear. I don't believe Rob was given a "fair" trial. So many important points were never allowed in the trial.
I pray every single person will take away from all of this an understanding that the police can and will use every tactic imaginable to cause their desired outcome, most of which apparently are not against the law (but in my mind very much against ethical and moral standards!).
I thank you and the Chronicle for taking the time and the stand to write and publish your articles. This country needs more people like you. We rely on the media to be our eyes and ears, and hunger for true information to be presented.
I know my son (Forrest) is innocent. I have the hardest time believing this nightmare touched our lives. We struggle to regain some of our losses, but even years will not erase what we have been through. Of course, my heart has always gone out to the girls' families. We are all victims in this mess.
Oh, the Bitter Irony
I love the Chronicle, I really do. I read it weekly, I enjoy the writing of most of the contributors (although Mike Ventura seems enamored with taking 300 words to say "hello"), and I patronize its advertisers. Unmistakably the bent of this paper is liberal, which is absolutely cool, there are two sides to every issue and we can differ from one another and still respect each other. However, I had a good chuckle at last week's cover. Of all the films produced in Texas, the paper chose a picture of Steve McQueen blasting someone in the chest with a rather snazzy Remington shotgun as its cover and lead-in to the excellent article ["Thirty Years on Location," June 15]. Odd, no? I thought liberals hated guns and violence. I thought that films like The Getaway promoted violence. So why that photo? Could it be some liberals are closet "blast 'em in half with a 12-gauge pump" movie fans?
And not to pick, but I thought most liberals hated tobacco? I thought tobacco was evil? I thought tobacco killed 400,000 people a year, which is absolutely true. Imagine my surprise at the Marlboro insert. Gosh, taking blood money from evil tobacco to advertise their addictive, deadly product. Ain't life odd?
Why Snub Culinary Grads?
Mick Vann's article, "Kitchen Education" [June 22] was rather interesting ... the first time I read it. Unfortunately, I read it again and saw between the lines. Implied in the text, I read culinary grads are perceived as overprivileged, whiny little brats who all want to become superstars; they have neither inherent creativity nor work ethics. I should have known by the table of contents that read "Is there a point to going to culinary school?"
Is there a point? Sure there is, but every student must define that point for themselves. For myself, it was to acquire that piece of paper, that pedigree that I felt would prove to the world that I am a professional and to feed the desire within me -- that love for food. I am by no means wealthy, so I took out student loans to finance my education, but I still had to work to survive. Through hard work I acquired the position of sous chef (requiring my presence in the kitchen 60-plus hours per week) while still maintaining my standing as an exemplary student. It wasn't easy but it was all worth it.
I have much respect for Elmar Prambs, Darryl Sneary, Teresa, and Robert and every chef who has attained their level of success without the benefit of a formal education. Their combined efforts have served to raise the level of cuisine found in this town. And at the same time, I don't automatically assume every culinary grad is worth the paper their degree is written upon. But what about Will Packwood, David Bull, Casey Lloyd, and the countless other outstanding culinary graduates who work in this city, putting their heart and soul into every dish? Their accomplishments are no less distinguished, and, in my own opinion, require an even greater level of discipline to achieve.
In every graduating class, there are those who strive to succeed and those who fail because they don't have the imagination, ethics, or knowledge to survive in the industry, but please, let's not generalize.
Jean-Luc's French Bistro
I would like to thank you for running the Harvey Pekar article on free jazz (June 15, 2001 issue). It was a very concise, specific, and accurate overview of the movement. I always enjoy reading Pekar's views on music.
The articles by Christopher Hess and Michael Chamy were neither as entertaining nor as accurate. Featuring Carl Smith as chief representative of "Austin's Avant-Garde Jazz Scene" is truly laughable. Why weren't several members of the avant-garde scene interviewed in order to widen the perspective? For God's sake, this guy Carl Smith doesn't even live in Austin anymore! And I know for a fact that the music department of the Chronicle has my e-mail address because I sent several e-mails to that department in March 2001 to publicize the two-day experimental music extravaganza Yeast by Sweet Beast (which was barely mentioned in the Chronicle for one week -- while SXSW was plastered all over every page of your magazine).
Better yet, your fledgling music writers could have interviewed one of the musicians from ST 37 about experimental music in Austin. They would know more about experimental music here than just about anyone. ST 37 has been around for at least 15 years and has inspired many experimental musicians in Austin and elsewhere. I read about them first back in 1987-88 in the seminal East Coast magazine Forced Exposure, long before I even dreamed I'd ever live in Texas. Unfortunately, the music staff at the Chronicle has labeled ST 37 "psychedelic rock," despite the myriad examples of brilliantly haunting improvisation and creative instrumentation peppered throughout their music.
I guess I should be happy. My band was at least mentioned in the sidebar story. I just can't understand how your writer could fail to mention the hard-working long-time Austinites of ST 37 (or their side project, Jerry Seinfeld's Atrophied Sac) when writing of experimental music in this city. How lame can you get when you don't even know of the treasures in your own back yard!
Aurora Plastics Company
Crunchy Food Enterprises
P.S. Why didn't your writers contact Todd Ledford of Bobby J. Records, another experimental music label here in Austin? Why didn't they speak with Charalambides about their experimental music label? The research for those two articles should have been more thorough. Why were no female musicians interviewed?
Andrews Dump Not Public
Reading the coverage of the legislature in the June 1 issue ["It's a Wrap!" by Michael King], I ran across a sentence that cannot simply be ignored which distorts several facts regarding the radioactive waste dump in Andrews, Texas.
The sentence in question reads: "The dump had apparently died an ignominious death a few days earlier, when the Senate bill enabling both the public Texas/Maine/Vermont Compact waste dump and the much larger private dump promoted by Waste Control Specialists and its lobbyists failed to escape the House Calendars Committee."
Two things need to be corrected here: The Texas/Maine/Vermont Compact waste dump which has resided in Andrews is a private dump owned by WCS (not a public dump as stated). This dump hardly requires enabling since it has been approved for a number of years, and has been receiving shipments of "low-level" radioactive waste since March of 1998.
Taking Back the Airwaves
First of all, a shout out to Emily Pyle for writing about our sisters and brothers at Free Radio Austin (FRA) and KIND Radio in San Marcos ["The Death and Life of Free Radio," June 22]. We also appreciate the mention of www.Radio1Austin.com, though we're a bit disappointed that more was not said about our own situation with Johnny Law (a.k.a. "Big Money's FCC") or about the politics that essentially killed the previous administration's Low Power FM (LPFM) licensing plans.
RadioOne volunteers spent countless hours and many of their own dollars putting "non-licensed, non-commercial micro-radio for Austin -- Radio1Austin" on the FM airwaves from May 6 to October 4 of last year. That's when we got our own unpleasant visit from the FCC's Loyd Perry a few days before FRA got its second visit -- not coincidentally, just before the Fortune 500 Conference came to town. Volunteers then looked into putting our station on the Internet, and by the end of November we started streaming our mix and contacting our programmers about coming back to do Net radio. Slowly we improved our Web site, though it's been hard keeping programmers motivated when so few folks are listening at any single moment.
Yet, Johnny Law continued to pursue a legal vendetta against the station. Recently two of the station organizers were forced to accept a $1,400 settlement, which has put us in danger of being unable to continue operating the station. This also included a permanent injunction barring one organizer from additional unlicensed radio broadcasts with an automatic $10,000 fine for doing so. (Checks to help us defray the expense of the settlement can be made out to Radio1Austin and sent to: P.O. Box 4502, Austin TX 78765)
It's no secret that Big Money's lobbyists killed the possibility of LPFM for most of us. Corporate radio's National Association of Broadcasters (NAB, which is what they've done to our airwaves) pushed hard for Congress to hamstring the FCC's LPFM plan. They argued that LPFM supposedly created interference that would muddy their broadcasts, but of course the real threat lay in giving folks without multimillion-dollar budgets access to their airwaves. Some members of Congress were actually leaning toward support of broader LPFM licensing until a significant player joined the NAB camp.
It was National Public Radio's support of the NAB's position that tipped the scales, and in December of last year a rider was attached to a budgetary law that Clinton wouldn't dare veto. (For more info, see some of the Web sites listed in Ms. Pyle's article, or www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featsakolsky_77.htm.) The law basically stripped the FCC of the power to grant LPFM licenses, putting that power in the hands of Congress instead and guaranteeing -- for a time at least -- that LPFM would not be a threat to complete corporate domination of our airwaves.
Yet, resistance is not futile.
LPFM can slowly come back from the moribund. KIND's legal case holds some slivers of hope. Other unsung heroes around the country continue to challenge corporate hegemony on our airwaves via their own microradio stations. In the meantime, we at Radio1Austin will continue a while longer to air underrepresented music, commentary, and views, even if you can only tune in via the Internet.
[Ed. note: This letter was signed by eight other programmers of Radio1Austin.]
Thumbs Down: Reviews
While I like to look up movie listings on your pages, I might suggest you do away with the movie reviews and the star ratings, since it is obvious your reviewers are clueless and their ratings are so far from reality as to be a significant disservice to the viewing public. I keep forgetting this and have narrowly avoided missing the recent Tomb Raiders movie, which was most enjoyable, because I made the mistake of reading the review.
A Moment in Time
I was biking home from a rugby tournament in Zilker Park on Saturday evening. After an already great day I crossed our new pedestrian bridge. At 9 o'clock that evening there were over 50 people standing on the bridge (not including those who were running or biking through) To my left was a beautiful sunset. To my right, a train was crossing the river with the golden sun rays reflecting off its windows and below me were couples drifting past in their canoes. Parents stared at the sunset while children tried to point out that there was a train close by. I was surrounded by people of all ages soaking up as much of the scene as possible. I want to thank the city for that moment. Thank you.
I was very disappointed not to find even a mention of the [alleged] illegal dumping of 15,000 cubic feet of concrete into the Colorado River by Rainbow Materials in this week's issue.
It has been featured in the Statesman and several news channels. I would think that a citizens group uncovering illegal dumping and protesting a possible city contract to this company would be newsworthy. I only hope you are planning a feature story in the future.
R.I.P. Venola Schmidt
The Austin Chronicle's tribute to Venola Schmidt was fully justified ["Austin Stories," June 15]. We lament the passing of Venola, an exemplary human being and truly compassionate liberal! Please write more of Ms. Schmidt's Alliance for Human Needs, which sounds like a worthwhile nonprofit organization our community should know more about.
Ted & Georgia Corin