Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio in South Africa has just passed away. I’d like to take the opportunity of his passing to share the story of one small thing that he did which made an enormous difference.
In 1997, the movement to free the airwaves of the United States was in full swing. There were approximately a thousand pirate radio stations in the US, all defying the unjust broadcast regulations in a massive campaign of electronic civil disobedience. When William Kennard took office as the chairman of the FCC, the radio pirates were all pretty worried because his last job had been chief council to the National Association of Broadcasters, the chief opponents of free radio in the United States. And in fact, within a month of coming into office, Chairman Kennard initiated a series of simultaneous raids on pirate radio stations, utilizing dozens of agents of the police, FBI, FCC and other law enforcement agencies.
The pirate station I was involved in, Radio Mutiny of Philadelphia, got our first visit several weeks later. We responded with a dramatic demonstration and open air broadcast in front of Benjamin Franklins’ printing press, a symbol of freedom of speech in the US. We also promised Chairman Kennard that we would “start ten stations around the country for every one he shut down- and make the FCC’s life Really Suck until they legalized community radio.”
As our campaign of defiance gathered steam, Chairman Kennard visited South Africa on a tour promoting US interests in telecommunications in Africa. He visited Bush Radio, and met with their founder, Zane Ibrahim. Bush Radio had started under the Apartheid regime as an illegal pirate radio operation, but had been granted a license under the new democratically elected government. They have since grown to become one of the most influential community radio stations in Africa, providing a wide variety of services to their community in Cape Town. During the tour of Bush Radio, Kennard saw their community classes, their production rooms, and dozens of people busy around the station making community radio. At a certain point, Kennard mentioned that there were pirates in the United States that wanted community radio licenses, and asked Zane’s opinion. Zane turned to him and said (I paraphrase from my memory of his story): “We have only been free for a few years and look at what we have built here. The US has been free for 200 years and your laws still prevent people from building places like Bush Radio?” Zane did not know us, had no contact with us. But he knew just the right answer to Chairman Kennard’s question.
After his visit, Chairman Kennard spoke several times in public about his experience visiting Bush Radio, and how seeing that station in action inspired him to work hard to make legalized community broadcasting a reality in the US.
Over the powerful and politically influential objections of his former employers at the broadcasting association, Mr. Kennard created a new set of rules allowing 100 watt community radio stations in the US. There are now thousands of new licenses in the US as a result.
Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio inspired a new way of thinking about radio among the decisionmakers of the United States. Zane was a profoundly inspiring man, we could not have done it without him.
Pete Tridish was a member of the founding collective of Radio Mutiny, 91.3 FM in Philadelphia. He is also a founder of the Prometheus Radio Project. He actively participated in the rulemaking that led up to the adoption of LPFM, and on the lawsuit Prometheus vs. the FCC, which held back a major round of media consolidation of ownership in the United States. Tridish has helped to build a number of low power radio stations, and provided advice to hundreds. He has done radio trainings in Guatemala, Colombia, Nepal, Tanzania, Jordan and other countries.
Reposted from Promethus Radio