Celebrate 10 years with free103point9!

Mar 17, 2007 5:01 am
free103point9 transmitted for the first time ten years ago March 7, 1997.

I-Sound, DJ Singe, and other turntablists played to a packed crowd at Chris Coxwell's loft on Hope Street in Williamsburg near the Lorimer "L" train stop in Brooklyn. For the first of many weekends to come, we hoisted an antenna on the two-story building's roof, and sent the sounds to the surrounding streets.

After that, free103point9 set up in the apartment of Greg Anderson and Violet Hopkins, near the Bedford Avenue "L" subway station, and microcast every Sunday with guests such as Matthew Shipp, New Clueless, and Stars of the Lid talking, playing, and transforming the neighborhood's radio. Few folks likely remember those Sunday afternoon shows ­ listeners could tune in from the East River shore to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, between the Williamsburg and Kosciuszko bridges -- that lasted about six months, but they were the building blocks for what was to follow.

Largely blank slates, with little in the way of station identification or DJs talking back just-played records, experimental sounds of all sorts spilled out. The concept of "radio art" was just barely beginning to be explored among the free103point9 collective at that time. Instead the other inspiration behind starting the station was that the radio airwaves were dead zones that needed to be revived. The best way to locally communicate thoughts and new ideas was being wasted by a handful of corporations intent on turning the nation's airwaves into private mints printing billions of dollars, polluting those airwaves as if they were pouring nuclear waste into national parks.

At that point free103point9 was both concerned about the lack of a community art archive, and the community's lack of access to its own airwaves. Over the course of the next several years, free103point9 became both a curated effort to experiment and provide an outlet for a healthy group of experimenters, as well as a community forum for northern Brooklyn.

After six months of a static studio on the Northside, free103point9 moved to a static studio on the Southside of Williamsburg, next to the Williamsburg Bridge. At this point, though, we decided mobile operations would serve our purposes better. In this way, we could set up turntablists on top of the old bike path on top of the Williamsburg Bridge, and have a secluded spectacle (now impossible because of government obsession with "security"). We could hoist antennae on close to 200 different northern Brooklyn rooftops, letting the hosts pick the content, and flyering the listening area a few days before each microcast. Weekend loft parties like the "Brooklyn Music Festival" in Bushwick, or the all-day "Elsewhere" extravaganza from Momenta Gallery could reach more ears. Eventually, we set up microphones and mixers inside living rooms throughout Brooklyn, broadcasting community forums, kids learning about radio, sound art, the audio for video programs, and much more.

We saw the free103point9 transmitter as akin to something in a library, that local residents could "check out" for a few days, enabling them to inform, entertain, provoke, and educate the rest of the community.

At this time in the late 1990s, free103point9 was aligned with thousands of others committing civil disobedience on the nation's airwaves, protesting years of consolidation and lack of regulation from the federal government culminating with the horrendous 1996 Telecommunications Act. Eventually, through a combination of that civil disobedience, court challenges, and intense lobbying, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service in January 2000, allowing hundreds of communities around the country to have their own neighborhood radio station.

The LPFM program was opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio, and watered down at the last minute by a faked interference claim by the NAB, who lied about the interference that the tiny LPFM stations would commit against the giant corporate stations. Thankfully, that interference claim was eventually debunked by an independent scientific study, but the complete LPFM bills that would really help communities throughout the country are still stuck in the House and Senate commerce committees.

But a bit of a victory was won for community radio, and largely thanks to the protests and efforts of thousands of so-called "pirate radio" stations. These stations aired city council meetings when corporate stations pulled the plug in Santa Clara, California. In San Marcos, Texas, KIND radio had the mayor on explaining what to do during a flood, when the corporate station licensed to the city didn't say a word, just kept airing advertisements aimed at bigger markets elsewhere. The new LPFM stations continue that tradition to this day, a lovely legacy for the pirates of the 1990s.

While some access to the airwaves had been improved slightly, creativity remained stagnant. free103point9 turned to seeing what could be done with the airwaves, how they could be used in interesting, different ways, and how their conventions could be subverted.

So a change for the organization felt natural. With encouragement and assistance from the free103point9 community at large, and generous grants from the New York State Council for the Arts, and Experimental Television Center, free103point9 shifted from artist collective to nonprofit organization in 2002, employing the term "Transmission Arts" as an umbrella for our interactions with airwaves.

"Transmission Arts" unite a community of artists and audiences interested in experimental radio ideas and tools. Transmission practices harness, occupy and/or respond to the airwaves that surround us. We are excited that the term is becoming part of the educational canon.

One of the first programs free103point9 initiated at this point is called Tune (In))). The original idea came in the early 1990s in Tampa, Florida, when some of the folks later involved with free103point9 were starting a station called 87X. At the time, the local police were using a noise ordinance to shut down young people's raves. Chuck ("Gutz") Stephens proposed a "silent rave," with the music broadcast via FM, and listeners wearing headphones. The idea didn't go over that well with the raves (they liked to "feel" the bass), but we thought about it more, and decided to expand it to five or six stations at the same time and give listeners a real idea of what is on the radio and what could be on the radio. We have since put on Tune (In)))'s at the NY Center for Media Art, The Kitchen, the Santa Fe Art Institute, free103point9 Project Space, and free103point9 Wave Farm. (The next one is scheduled for July 7 at Wave Farm.)

free103point9 now represents, assists, and supports 21 different artists who all use radio somehow in their work. They include 31 Down, Alexis Bhagat, Matt Bua, Damian Catera, Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson, The Dust Dive, Joshua Fried, Anna Friz, Tianna Kennedy, Latitude/Longitude, Sophea Lerner, LoVid, Todd Merrell, Matt Mikas, Michelle Nagai, neuroTransmitter, ben owen, Radio Ruido, Tom Roe, Michelle Rosenberg, and Scanner.

Proudly, over the last ten years, we have presented the work of hundreds of artists to international audiences in a wide scope of contexts. Our programs have been presented in partnership with exciting and influential institutions such as Anthology Film Archives, NY; Art in General, NY; Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; Electronic Arts Intermix, NY; Gwangju Biennale, South Korea; Hallwalls, Buffalo; Hogar Collection, Brooklyn; LMCC, NY; The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh; The New Museum for Contemporary Art, NY; NAMAC; Black & White Gallery,NY; The Ontological Theatre, NY; PERFORMA, NY; Rhizome, NY; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and White Box, NY among numerous others. From 2000 to recently the free103point9 Gallery/free103point9 Project Space in South Williamsburg, B
rooklyn provided a special place for artists working in experimental sound genres such as avant folk, noise, computer-based music, free jazz and spoken word. Most programs are streamed live and free with audio and video on free103point9 Online Radio.

free103point9 also continues some of its early work with a Radio Lab education project. "Radio Lab" was spawned from a 1999 free103point9 education program with youth from East Harlem's Kids Discover Radio, an after school science program in a housing project, and at El Puente, a Williamsburg-based neighborhood center in Brooklyn. free103point9 Radio Lab seminars have since been presented at educational and cultural institutions throughout including Columbia University, Brown University, Brooklyn College, the Grassroots Media Conference at The New School, New York University's ITP Program, The Kitchen, Participant, Inc., Flux Factory, OfficeOps, and at Pittsburgh's the Mattress Factory. We continue to offer these educational workshops to all ages.

And a slew of other projects support other artists, such as a residency program called AIRtime at Wave Farm; a Dispatch Series of LPs, CDs, tapes and books; an extensive calendar of events on our web site, where anyone can add their own event to a large public calendar; occasional fiscal sponsorship on a per project basis; and an online radio station playing experimental works of all sorts at all hours of every day, with many special live shows. And the free103point9 Newsroom contains open calls, transmission art updates, news from microradio stations and international radio regulations, and much more.

And this summer free103point9 will debut a new Study Center at Wave Farm. Eventually when finished, the building will house a library for public studies of transmission arts, as well as the AIRtime residency program, and other special radio installations, workshops, meetings, broadcasts, and more.

free103point9 was founded in 1997 by Greg Anderson, Violet Hopkins, and Tom Roe. Matt Bua, Dave Kay, Jeanne McCabe, Bess Stiffelman, and Carrie Dashow all made significant contributions during free103point9's collective years. In 2002, Galen Joseph-Hunter, Matt Mikas, and Tom Roe founded the non-profit media arts organization that is now free103point9. Tianna Kennedy and Sarah Lippek both joined the staff in 2003 with Lippek leading the Radio Lab education program for several years, and Kennedy continuing to this day as Special Projects Coordinator, and an invaluable radio expert.

Current active volunteers include Roshan Abraham, Allie Alvarado, Mara Barenbaum (intern at Wave Farm), Giancarlo Bracchi, Jennifer Cohlman, Greta Cohn, Gabriel Farrell, Sarah Margaret Halpern, Kenneth Lang, Billy Nastyn, James Trimarco, and others.

Past actions, ongoing efforts, and special thanks: Valerie Allen, Cecily Anderson, Greg Anderson, Tim Annett, Phyllis Baldino, Phil Ballman, Jeffrey Barke, Broklyn Beats, Erika Biddle, Kelly Benjamin, Matt Bua, Aaron Davidson, Briana Davis, Dharma Dailey, Carrie Dashow, Melissa Dubbin, Andrew Duetsch, Jess Dunne, EAI, Lily Gottlieb-McHale, Kurt Gottschalk, Josh Haglund, Michele Hardesty, Cortney Harding, Patrick Heilman, Cathy Hersh, Ryan Holsopple, Violet Hopkins, I-Sound, Mikey IQ, Eli Joseph-Hunter, Dave Kay, Professor Klystron, Emily Lambert, Sarah Lippek, Kevin & Jennifer McCoy, Eric Morrison, Tom Mulligan, Caireen O'Hagan, Seth Price, India Richards, Michelle Rosenberg, Ron Rosenman, Brad Truax, Russ Waterhouse, Fritz Welch, Eugene Won, and Philip Von Zweck. In addition, Screw Music Forever originally got the free103point9 web site going.

--Tom Roe