Posted by: stefaniemeyers | January 11, 2008

“Those are the stations that are the real heroes”

When recounting the long month after Hurricane Katrina hit, Jim Ellinger has a very different view than most radio operators. Most radio stations in the Gulf Coast area were shut down in the wake of Katrina, and the few that stayed operational felt the support and gratitude of the communities they served. Ellinger, not being a part of the mainstream media (MSM) , did not have this experience.


Jim Ellinger runs Austin Airwaves, a part of the Independent Media Center. The Independent Media Center is a network of collectively run media outlets for the telling of accurate and radical truth. In the wake of the hurricane, Ellinger sent a transmitter down to the lower 9th Ward to help set up a pirate radio station named Radio Uprising. The station was promptly shut down, much to the displeasure of Ellinger, who then sent down another transmitter to get the station back on the air.

A pirate station is different from a low power FM station in that is operational without an FCC license. It has no assigned bandwidth, but just pushes its signal to everyone who can pick it up. Two pirate stations were set up in the 9th Ward in the aftermath of the storm, Radio Uprising and Radio Harlequin, to broadcast crucial emergency information. Both were shut down twice by the FCC. Ellinger was frustrated with the situation because he believes “these were the station saving lives, and these were the stations being shut down.”

Meanwhile, in Texas, Jim Ellinger traveled to Houston to set up a radio station in the Astrodome to help communicate to the many people taking refuge there. He did note the efficiency of the FCC in granting licenses during the emergency. It had taken him fourteen years to obtain a low power license prior to the storm, and four days to obtain one after.

Unfortunately, after providing 10,000 radios for the survivors, Ellinger and his team encountered stiff resistance from the operators of the Astrodome. He eventually had to set up his station in the parking lot. It was only operational for six days at six megahertz, and by that time 90% of the evacuees had left the facility. “It was a mostly symbolic gesture,” said Ellinger. Still, he has continued his efforts at providing crucial community service, whether through LPFM or pirated stations.


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