Radio-Free Garland

An unlikely suburban airwave pirate lands in the FCC's crosshairs

The FCC officers were cordial, but Marty knew they meant business. He immediately took down his transmitter and stayed off the air for a month or so. He got dozens of letters and sympathy cards from his listeners. For weeks, he received five messages a day on his answering machine from neighbors who were devastated that the station had shut down. Some people even called the FCC to see whether there was something they could do.

Buoyed by the support, Marty was determined to resurrect The Park. He bought a new, albeit less powerful, transmitter that would send a signal low enough to comply with FCC regulations. It has about the same power and range as a garage-door opener, sending a clear signal for, at most, three blocks.

The station is broadcasting again 12 hours a day. But Marty no longer does his show, and all the music is pre-selected. He changes the lineup daily and the CD changer mixes up the order about three times a day.

"When you tune in The Park, you still never know what you're going to hear. It's like having a jukebox," he says. He tries to have some fun with it. At Christmastime, Spring Park homeowners go all out decorating their houses, with each block choosing a different theme. This year, Marty's block chose an Elvis theme, and visitors to the neighborhood who turned their FM radio dial to 89.7 were treated to nonstop Elvis songs.

He still has a strong following among those who are able to tune in. One recent morning, while Marty was talking to a visitor at his home, he was interrupted by a phone call from a listener thanking him for that morning's selection of songs, which included a lineup heavy with Cajun music that Marty had selected to promote the upcoming Mardi Gras party at the clubhouse.

"We're not really a neighborhood station anymore," Marty says wistfully. "We're just playing at being a station, in the hope that one day we'll be able to get a license."

That day may come soon. By August, the FCC will finish taking public comment on the proposals to license low-power FM stations. A final ruling could come early next year.

"If we're successful in bringing back localized radio, this is a very positive thing for communities," Marty says. "It will be like the days of underground radio. God knows what you'll hear. Some people will want to serve the community, and some people will just be self-serving. But the good will be worth having some of the bad for.

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