Pirating the Airwaves


Dewayne Readus is a felon. His crime: playing rap music.

Readus, who is blind, operates a one-watt FM station out of his tenement apartment in Springfield, Illinois. In March, the Federal Communications Commission fined Readus $750 and ordered him to shut down his unlicensed station. (The FCC will license only FM stations with a minimum power of 100 watts.) So far, Readus has refused to pay the fine, and he continues to broadcast.

Although he has been on the air since 1986, Readus claims that his trouble with the FCC began only last year, when he started airing interviews of community members with grievances against the local police. In April 1989, Readus shut down his station after receiving his first warning from the FCC. But a week later, he switched his equipment back on and, on the air, telephoned authorities to let them know about it.

Readus has now begun to call for deregulation of broadcasting to allow low-wattage stations like his to operate legally. "The airwaves aren't exactly crowded with black voices," he told the Columbia Journalism Review's Rich Shereikis, "so I don't see that it's a big problem if we get our share of the action by putting ourselves on the air."