Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community

Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community

by Lorenzo W. Milam, Thomas J. Thomas

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"A goldmine ... wiser and funnier than almost any book in the field … the richest account yet published of the ways in which broadcasting is experienced, by both listener and broadcaster ... this is a wonderful book." — The Times (London) Literary Supplement
Nominally a guide to starting a home-grown, community radio station, this idiosyncratic book offers much more than that, including a passionate defense of noncommercial broadcasting. Lorenzo W. Milam, a pioneer in the development of listener-supported community radio, shares his enthusiasm and insights in a volume that has already inspired a generation of broadcasters and listeners and is poised to do the same for the podcasting generation. Although the details may change, the desire to communicate directly and honestly with a wider audience is a constant, and this impulse is fueled by Milam's splendidly eccentric handbook.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486821269
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/03/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 25 MB
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About the Author

Writer and activist Lorenzo Wilson Milam was instrumental in starting many of the first listener-supported community radio stations in the United States. From the early 1960s through the late 1970s, he founded 14 stations. His other books include The Myrkin Papers and CripZen.

Read an Excerpt

Sex and Broadcasting

A Handbook On Starting a Radio Station for the Community

By Lorenzo W. Milam

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1988 Lorenzo W. Milam
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-81449-0


Part One How did they ever get a permit to build the world?

– Leo Gugliocciello


Broadcasting as it exists now in the United States is a pitiful, unmitigated whore. At some stage in its history, there was a chance to turn it to a creative, artful, caring medium; but then all the toads came along, realizing the power of radio and television to hawk their awful wares. The saga of broadcasting in America is littered with the bodies of those who wanted to do something significant---and who were driven out [or more correctly, sold out] by the pimps and thieves who now run the media.

Broadcasting does not have to be so vile and boorish. The Canadians best of all have shown that it is possible to have a superb blending of commercial and non-commercial radio and television: and Canadian communications are alive and alert and funny and meaningful. They do not have to bore people to death (as the 'educational' broadcasters in this country so obviously need to do); nor do they view the listener as some sort of dumb animal to be fed acres of pap---solely for the purpose of prying money from him. The art of radio can be used for artistic means; the radio-soul does not have to be made into a strumpet for soap and politicians.

The dismal state of American broadcasting is perpetuated by nitwits who should know better. BROADCASTING MAGAZINE---the memento mori of the whole 19th century robber baron tradition of commercial broadcasting, babbles about censorship every time the Federal Communications Commission moves timidly into the area of consumer (listener and viewer) protection. The turnips at the National Association of Broadcasters have millions of dollars to bang on every congressman or Senator who may dare to try to change the milking of the golden goose aether. And the FCC itself is harassed and badgered on all sides by an industry which has enormous power.

But the spectrum is as big as all outdoors---and there is a nitch here, a crack there, for those who care to try to squeeze some of the art back into radio. There are even ways for the poor and the dispossessed to get on the air, to have a chance to speak and be heard outside the next room, the next block. Although most of this vital natural resource has gone into the hands of the speculator-ruinators, there is a portion of the FM band which has been set aside for commercial-free operations. Due to some easings in the restrictions on those who may apply for these frequencies, it is possible for small groups to have their own broadcast outlets...even though they are independent of schools, colleges, and the big moneybag radio combines.

We are primarily concerned with the educational portion of the FM band, from 88.1-91.9 megahertz. Traditionally, this has been set aside for the big bores who run Schools of Communication at various colleges and universities and even public schools. But in 1954, the FCC permitted (suggested, in fact) that Pacifica Foundation in Berkeley make use of the educational band for a repeater operation – KPFB. Since then, other non-school groups have utilized the lower end of the FM band for community stations---educating listeners in the widest sense. KPFK in Los Angeles, KPFT in Flouston Texas (both Pacifica stations) and, as well, KPOO (Poor People's Radio) of San Francisco, KBDY of St. Louis, KUSP (the 'Pataphysical Broadcasting Foundation) of Santa Cruz, and two or three other groups have asked for and received permits for non-commercial broadcast stations.

KUSP, KBDY, KCHU, and WYEP are the most interesting stations for the purposes of this booklet. For the first time in history of the FCC law and practice, non-school groups have been recognized as being legally qualified to broadcast on the non-commercial part of the broadcast band. ' Pataphysical Broadcasting Foundation, especially, was granted a permit to construct a low power station specifically using suggestions outlined in the first edition of SEX AND BROADCASTING. Sometimes the only way to test new directions in FCC policy is through the application process. It is not unlike the exasperating method of determining changes in the Russian government through obscure pictures on the back page of PRAVDA.

So, for the first time since the great wild early days of AM radio, back in the 1920s before the ogres took over our precious Aether---for the first time since those wild experimental days of free and loving transmission---radio operations have become available to anyone who might have that dreadful need to communicate. A need which some of us feel to be as strong and as vibrant as the need to love, and to eat, and to sleep.

A disease. Maybe we can even think of the art of transmission as a need of purblind sickness: a habit as hard and driving as the very shriek of the blower which cools the white-hot tubes in the broadcast transmitter. You and I, caught in the transmission of generations of words---cascading them to the edges of our visible horizon: and perhaps even sending them to the outer edges of the universe to puzzle strange minds behind strange brows. I know that someday I may be able to explain to you my views on the blinding habit of radio ... which has to do with self-image, and the needs for minorities (us) to see and hear themselves on a million screens and in a million speakers in a million homes ...

... But that's for us to talk about at some time when we have a few beers, and the sun is stretching to die on the Santa Cruz Mountains, and I can titillate you with my image of the sensual nature of broadcasting, the fascinating tingle of control rooms, and rack panels, and the fine hard mesh of microphones, and the dizzying amplification of a Collins transmitter. That's for later: now I want to give you some hope on the how-to-do it – because you may be able to do it.

And then again you may not. For what I am going to start to try to do is to lead you into the maze of bureaucracy called Federal Communications Commission and Form 340 and site availability. And you and I can never NEVER project the strange meanderings of the governmental process of cotton and delay. You may be able to pry a construction permit out of this body. Then again, as I am writing now, they may be fuddling up the rules whereby you seek a permit. Sometimes they come in the night and 'freeze' things---which means that all of a sudden your dream station is locked in the monster jaws of governmental inertia for years and years: and nothing, I mean nothing, can ungum the process – not anger, rage, picketing, lawsuits, letters to Nicholas Johnson, political leverage, tears, desperation, and death.

Someday, someday: I have promised myself to write for you a book about the FCC, and how they lose strange applications, as they did for me: and a strange man, called John Harrington, in Complaints and Compliance. Someday. Not now.

To apply for a construction permit for a radio station, you will need the following:

A frequency;

A friendly (and hopefully honest) attorney;

A non-profit corporation;

A transmitting site;

Seven or nine good and loving people to be on the board of your corporation;

Ten copies of FCC Form 340;

Some money or other assets;

Patience. Acres of it.

It will take time, and the willingness to wait. Maybe as long as two years. But you can be doing this while you are holding down another job and eating clams on the beach and drinking yourself insensate at the same time.

A kiss is to love as a Form is to the Government, so you should get a fistful of the Form 340. They are free---one of the rare things that you and I can get for free from The Man---from the Federal Communications Commission: either through any of their 24 district ofices, or through the main octopus in Washington, D. C.--at 1919 "M" Street Northwest, zip 20554. Use one copy of this to rough out your answers. This is a good touchstone to getting yourself geared for all the steps and requirements facing a licensee of a broadcast station in the United States.

While you are waiting for your forms (since your letter will inevitably get lost somewhere in the government machinery) you should make sure that there is even a frequency available in your area. I am fairly convinced that there are none whatsoever within 30-60 miles of the following cities:

New York
Lost Angeles
San Francisco
Washington D.C.
St. Louis
Portland (Oregon)

There are other cities which are marginal – even for ten watt stations. And I may be wrong on one or two of those listed above: you might be able to squeeze a useable signal into a major market even though you have to put your transmitter some distance from city center. There is another solution which has to do with trying to get some of the existing educational stations to move around, frequency Musical Chairs. But most of them, I must warn you, are so piggy that they won't even consider moving, much less give you the time of day. In this case, you have to file dreadful "Show Cause Orders" with the FCC – all of which I will explain to you later.

To figure out if there is a frequency available, or if you might have to transmit from 20 miles outside of town, or if you will have to try to move two or three 10 watt stations around – to do all this boring and complicated work, you will need an engineer who knows how to work the F 50, 10 chart, and knows FCC rules, and who will do a frequency search for you.

A frequency search don't mean turning on the radio and listening for holes. It means having on hand a copy of Section 0, 1, 2, and 3 of the FCC rules – available after a mere 6 months delay from the Government Printing Office, Washington D. C. Your engineer will have to order an official list of the existing and pending FM stations from

Tom Berry
1705 DeSales St. N.W., Rm. 500
D. C. 20036

When the FCC rules finally come, your most important information is contained in a Footnote to Part 1, Section 1.573. I have just saved you $500 in engineering fees. You can almost do a frequency search of your own by ordering Bruce Elving's excellent, concise, and complete FM STATION ATLAS from

Box 24
Adolph, Minn. 55701

for $2.50. Some engineers have to go to school for five years to learn the contour prediction method for FM found on page 79 of the ATLAS. But you are best off with the rules themselves which tell you most (not all) of what has to be done for an FCC application.

There is one thing that I would suggest you avoid doing at this stage: that is, going to your local regional office of the FCC and asking for their help on your community station. For one thing, these people are notoriously disinterested in acting as information sources. They are convinced that they are overworked. They may be right: the whole FCC consists of 1100 people whose job is to oversee a million or so acres of aether. But FCC bureaucrats are a special breed: not only are they Civil Servants with jobs to protect from controversy and life, but they have their own special loathing for the public. Employment at the FCC involves a desexing process, and some dres codes made up in 1934. Worse---these bureaucrats---especially on the local level---will do anything, including making up stories, to get you out of their hair. I know of a dozen or so cases where innocents have been told, "No---there aren't any frequencies available," just so the petty official can get back to his papers.

The FCC lower echelon is a continuing paradox to those of us who have to work with it on a regular basis. One would think that they were not public servants at all: but rather, somewhat testy and very powerful nitpickers right out of Dostoevsky. There are occasional gentle and good souls who creep into the Commission on a lower level: but they are so rare that I don't even bother to ask the local branch office of the FCC for anything except forms and administration of the 3rd Class test.

Your best source for help and rumor and advice and lore is not at the FCC. Nor would it be some local broadcast station owner: those tits are all salesmen hiredhands, paid to whore their particular frequency. Nor it it the dotards in a school of broadcasting: they are paid to suck $600 or $1000 from poor you (and your desperate need to communicate) and give you little in return. And you are going to get no help from the state university School of Communication---a repository for all the troglodytes who can't make it in the commercial world.

No: your biggest help is some First Class Chief engineer. One of those who has been working at one of your local radio stations for awhile, and who loves (most of them do) to talk about the industry.

A good broadcast engineer has an instant lightsecond source for information about what's going on at the station he is working for, or the station across the way, or the one in the next city – or in many cases – some across the country. They know about equipment for sale or about to be taken out of service. They know who is running which station. They know who is going to be hired, they know who is drinking too much, and who is sleeping with whom in the front office. They know all the prices paid for radio stations in your particular area over the past twenty years. They most probably have an avid interest in and affection for more than just the technical side of broadcasting. Often, their knowledge spills out into obscure and occult aspects of FCC law.

A good Chief Engineer is independent and bizarre. He has a mind of his own, because he has the access and expertise on the means of transmission of sound. The Chief Engineer of a radio station has the boss by the nuts, and they both know it. The salesmen and the management and the disc jockeys hold the Chief Engineer in some awe. And they should. 1 have talked to several engineers who managed to wire the station they work for. And they will be goddamned if they will ever draw up a comprehensive wiring diagram. "That's my lifetime job security," one said. They trade on the fact that most owners can't tell a 3X2500A3 from a muskrat; they know that 98% of the jocks think that a rectifier is something for proctological examinations, and that the whole place would fall apart if they picked up and left.

In each area there are one or two or three literate, intelligent, madmen Chief Engineers (who likely as not work for several stations)---who are a goldmine of information for you. If they like you, they will not only tell you who is eating out who in the sordid world of radio---but they will help you with frequency searches, locate obscure and cheap equipment for you, tell you which station owners or managers to approach for necessary tower space. And, if they like you a lot---they will help you build your teakettle for nothing and maybe even contract to serve as your Chief Engineer for a small fee every month. They---like most people in radio and television outside of the moneygrubbers---are bored to death with the day-to-day workings of their job, and they share in the excitement of a new operation going on the air, even if it's just your dinky 10 watt station.

As long as we have gotten this far, I should tell you some things not to do. One is: don't sit around and dream of what call letters you are going to ask for. This opportunity occurs only after the issuing of an official construction permit by the FCC. Another is: don't start ordering or buying equipment. Although you must specify equipment for your application---you would be an idiot to buy any. You may end up with transmitters in the basement and antennas in the bath-tub: and no radio station at all to hook them to.

It is very important at this point that you carefully ignore any and all rumors that you hear. Well, not all: maybe 95% of them. As soon as you get your idea for a viable community outlet and start to work on it---you will be besieged with stories that flow out, through, under and around the broadcast industry.

It is as if people in radio are not content with holding down their chunk of frequency, spreading their gruel over all the countryside by electronic means. No, they also seem to need the constant flow of rumor, half-truths, misinformation, and outright absurdities in order to function. The stories you will hear will be of two types: immediately as you start on your application, you will hear of at least three other groups who are putting together their applications and who will be competing with you for the chosen frequency. If you check out these tales, they will probably be wrong, or greatly exaggerated.

The other story will be one of how the existing AM or FM station in town is going to make trouble for your application by filing secret material with the FCC, officially protesting your proposal.


Excerpted from Sex and Broadcasting by Lorenzo W. Milam. Copyright © 1988 Lorenzo W. Milam. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

"A goldmine ... wiser and funnier than almost any book in the field … the richest account yet published of the ways in which broadcasting is experienced, by both listener and broadcaster ...  this is a wonderful book."―The Times (London) Literary Supplement
Nominally a guide to starting a home-grown, community radio station, this idiosyncratic book offers much more than that, including a passionate defense of noncommercial broadcasting. Lorenzo W. Milam, a pioneer in the development of listener-supported community radio, shares his enthusiasm and insights in a volume that has already inspired a generation of broadcasters and listeners and is poised to do the same for the podcasting generation. Although the details may change, the desire to communicate directly and honestly with a wider audience is a constant, and this impulse is fueled by Milam's splendidly eccentric handbook.

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