The Message

Jolly Dodgers

Government is often derided as being slow and ineffective -- but the local office of the Federal Communications Commission is anything but. Just ask the man who calls himself Carl Nimbus. He's involved with Denver Free Radio, an unlicensed collective that wants to provide a musical alternative to the corporation-fueled fodder clogging area dials. Over the past several weeks, Nimbus and his unnamed partners have gone on the air three times, from three different locations -- and on each occasion, the FCC has responded to a crime Nimbus sees as entirely victimless by quickly pulling the plug.

During the second half of September, after receiving donated equipment from an interested party, the DFR crew put out a signal at 93.9 FM. The programming consisted of automated playlists that Nimbus describes as "very diverse. We were playing a lot of artists that don't get any exposure on commercial stations: some local artists and a lot of national artists who can't get on Clear Channel stations." In reference to the aforementioned San Antonio-based radio Goliath, he says, "It's sad that five guys in Texas decide what gets heard around the country."

Not that area listeners could check out DFR for long. Nimbus says that after three days, Denver FCC agent Jon Sprague and his associates arrived at the structure where DFR was situated. Sprague told the building's residents that an FM station was on the premises, which was news to them, because they'd been told they were sheltering a ham-radio repeater. "It seems a little underhanded, but it's the subterfuge we have to use to stay safe," Nimbus says.

Mike Gorman

Sprague issued a cease-and-desist order and left. Afterward, the DFR allies removed their equipment and found another group of people who agreed to provide a space for it; they, too, were told it was ham-radio gear. Two weeks later, DFR kicked off again, this time with a slightly stronger signal; the power went from 40 watts to 150 watts. Five days passed before Sprague showed up once more, delivering a cease-and-desist order to the individuals at the second location. Shortly thereafter, the equipment was shifted to yet another spot, and on October 24, DFR types tested their gadgets for four hours without incident. They next flipped the transmitter's switch on October 27, hoping they'd have a longer run. Unfortunately for them, Sprague arrived after only about an hour, a cease-and-desist order in hand.

The obvious way to make the FCC's job a little tougher would be to broadcast from a van that could be moved from place to place. Other area outfits have used this approach in the past, but Nimbus is reluctant to do so, saying, "It seems very Hollywood, very Pump Up the Volume. I don't want to get into that stereotype. We don't want to set this up and run around the city and be defiant." He stresses that, with the help of an engineer, DFR puts out a clean signal that doesn't interfere with any other commercial stations. As he puts it, "We don't want to stomp all over licensed broadcasters. We just want to provide a community service."

Clearly, the FCC sees things differently and is aggressively going after illicit broadcasters here and across the country. As a result, representatives of Capitol Underground Radio, an operation previously profiled in these pages ("Air Wars," May 6), chose to delay their launch, which was targeted for September, rather than be instantly squelched by the feds. Nimbus, however, isn't ready to exchange his pirate flag for a white one. "This is all about determination," he says. "They bust you fast to discourage you, but we're not going to get discouraged. We're going to keep coming back on the air."

By the book: While the public may think of newspaper articles as ephemeral, they linger online for a long time -- and so does misinformation they may contain if the gaffes aren't fixed. University of Central Florida student Jim Cundiff was reminded of this while recently researching a supposedly factual scenario mentioned in one of his assigned texts: Management Information Systems for the Information Age, fourth edition, credited to University of Denver profs Stephen Haag and Donald J. McCubbrey and Pittsburg State University's Maeve Cummings. As it turns out, the incident in question didn't actually take place, but the authors had no idea because the Denver Post piece on which they relied failed to receive the correction it so richly deserved.

The roots of the story stretch back to April Fools Day two years ago, when Post reporter Trent Seibert, who's no longer with the paper, was engaging in a jaw session with Colorado house minority leader Dan Grossman and several other lawmakers. In interviews for the April 11, 2002, version of this column, Grossman said that Seibert "brought up this incident that happened in Texas where a legislator was caught on photo radar with a girl in his car, and the following year, photo radar was discontinued." That earned a laugh, as did Seibert's suggestion that the passenger seat be blocked out in radar pics in Colorado. "Oh, yeah," Grossman remembers adding. "We could call it the adulterers amendment."

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