Abast Mateys, PCMAX off the i2c bow!

Back in about 2002, I wrote a Linux 2.4.x device driver for a neat solvenian company in exchange for some of their equipment. You see, back in my more maverick and idealistic days, I was in to pirate radio. (I suppose by admitting this, I just blew my chances at getting an FCC license, but I don't foresee ever appling for one anyways). The prose below represents an idealism that to me now feels almost pointlessly quixotic (and I say this while volunteering to preserve Internet privacy! HAH!), but it was a lot of fun at the time, and still is quite informative for anyone who feels like tinkering with this stuff. It is a rare surviving excerpt from the fscked.org of 2002.

Perhaps the most amusing part of this whole project was when I interviewed at Microsoft for an internship. My last interviewer was a real clean-cut, stodgy, almost military-looking guy who didn't ask me any technical questions at all. Instead, he just grilled me about this project: why I did it, what it was for, if I thought it was a good idea, etc etc. I recall doing my best to answer his questions without getting into too many specifics. Whatever I said must have done the trick, because they actually gave me the job.

Pirate radio

The idea behind 'pirate' radio is that the airwaves belong to the people, and so the people should have a say as to what goes on them. Unfortunately, regulation from the FCC, under heavy influence from corporate (and surprisingly also large nonprofit organizations) is making it extremely difficult for the public to legally obtain Low Power FM (LPFM) licenses.

A bit of history:

In the early days of FM, the FCC granted licenses to low power (<= 100Watt) FM stations for communities to broadcast local events and for community news.

Around the late 70's to early 80's, non-profit radio entered the scene. Non-profit radio depends on listener donations, so the larger the listener base, the more donations they got. So non-profit radio began to consolidate under one umbrella, NPR. Ironically it was NPR that subsequently lobbied the FCC to eliminate the granting of low power FM. They claimed that low power FM was crowding the spectrum of the dial, but it is widely known that the real reason was that low power FM was cutting into NPR's listener base, and thus depleting their revenue stream.

Well of course, NPR being a big organization, did successfully lobby the FCC, which terminated the rights of the general public to free speech and access the public airwaves. This of course led to a mass increase in the number of low power FM stations, the pirate radio craze of the 80's.

During the mid-nineties, pirate radio began a decline, just as an even greater tragedy occurred: The Telecommunications Act of 1996. Prior to 1996, there was a limit on the number of radio stations a single corporation could own nationally and locally. The Telecommunications Act eliminated the national limit entirely, and considerably increased the number of local stations one company could own (from 3 to 8 in large areas), and set various other pro-corporate rules to encourage "free market" regulation of the airwaves.

Of course, as a result wealth and power conglomerated, and a few wealthy media corporations bought up nearly all radio stations in the country. The result is that radio stations across the nation all play the same homoginated material, and there is very little diversity among radio stations in a single town.

On Jan 20, 2000, the FCC finally tossed LPFM a bone. Low power FM stations would be allowed to operate with a license if they met certain conditions.

If you look closely at that original document, it seems very pro-community. And that's because it is. Normally commercial radio stations are kept apart by the 3 frequency slots (ie if there is a station on 107.1, the nearest place the next one can be is 107.9). But since LPFM is much lower power (and thus spreads less noise to adjacent freqs), they changed the limit to 2 frequency slots. This opened up many frequencies for public use in a spectrum that has been already completely filled to the limit of 3rd adjacent by corporations.

So why Pirate Radio still?

So, of course, we all knew this wouldn't stand. Heavy lobbying from corporate radio persuaded Congress to mandate the 3rd adjacent frequency rules be enforced for LPFM as well. As a result, almost all the available LPFM frequencies disappeared, despite the fact that many many usable frequencies exist.

So, in the spirit of Civil Disobedience, I've decided to contribute my part by writing a device driver. I figure others who have the guts to set up a TX site are now free to do so using free software. ;)

How to do it

I recommend first reading up on some technical information presented in the links section, and then purchasing a couple of PC transmitter cards, building a slim jim, and buying or building an amp. (It's MUCH harder than it looks.. Even with the right EQ, component positions are so finicky that small errors break the whole filtering scheme).

With the PC cards, you can set up an automated multi-node network that allows public upload and relays back and forth between nodes automatically. Some people I know are working to provide GPL'ed php code that does this. I will update this page with details.

If you do decide to set up such a network, let me know, and I will set up a list and try to encourage coordination and cross-broadcasting.

The Code

The source code.

Other Links


Sources for full LPFM Kits

DIY shit: