Making Waves

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There's a number of documentaries about pirate radio out there, from Free Radio to The Battle for 105.9. Of the ones I've seen, the best by far is Michael Lahey's Making Waves, which debuted a few months ago at the Arizona International Film Festival and screens again tomorrow in Santa Cruz. I have a few quibbles with the picture; most significantly, it gives the impression that the boom in unlicensed broadcasting began as a reaction to the Telecom Act of 1996, when in fact it predated that law by several years. But it's a smart, entertaining, and ably made movie with a lively cast of characters and a strong visual sense, and I recommend it highly.

Rather than attempting to cover the entire micro radio movement or all the policy issues that movement raises, Making Waves focuses on a handful of specific unlicensed stations in Tucson. Two are populist, "constitutionalist" outlets run by the sort of people who refuse to put license plates on their cars. Another is a freeform station run by some folks who think the city's commercial "alternative" outfits are too limited. Rather than using them as props to make a political point, the film explores the personalities behind the stations, warts and all, and the cultural milieus that they inhabit. It's fascinating, funny, and sometimes sad.

Tomorrow's screening will be a benefit for Free Radio Santa Cruz, another unlicensed broadcaster. If you're in the area, you can see it at 515 Broadway in Santa Cruz, California, at 7:00 p.m.

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  1. We had a guy in Connecticut who built a LP FM station and evaded the FCC for years. He had rigged an impressive series of pulleys around the roof of his house driven by a garage door opener. He would open the attic window, and the 20 foot antenna mast would slide out and swing up into place. After the FCC fined him, every broadcast enginner in thge region (myself included) asked him if we could see his set-up. He ended up giving tours, but never went back on the air.

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