Note: This text was published by Tetsuo Kogawa on the list of net.congestion in reply to the "Media without an Audience" text by Eric Kluitenberg, also included in this issue. Reprinted here with permission by the author.


From: tetsuo kogawa
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 05:23:17 +0900
Subject: Re: [mediafest] Media without an Audience

November 4, 1999, I had a lecture at the Bauhaus University that Ralf Homann organised. This might have a could-be-sharing notion that Eric Kluitenberg brilliantly argues. I would like to put it here for our further discussion:

Tetsuo Kogawa



[The beginning]
The term Mini FM was first used in a mass-circulation newspaper in 1982, when a very low-watt FM-station movement started. Mini FM stations have very little power judged by any standard usually less than a hundred milliwatts. Although such a weak signal may seem to be of no use for broadcasting, the purpose was not broadcasting but narrowcasting.

The birth of Mini FM is related to the peculiar situation of radio in Japan. When Mini FM originated in the early 1980s, most cities in Japan had only one FM station, if any at all, because only government-operated stations could obtain licenses; station administrators tended to be retired government officials.

The new trends in Italy where free radio stations sprang up (since July 1976, Verdict 202) stimulated me very much. The trends leaped over the borders into France and other countries in the 80s.

Based on these events, friends and I began experimenting with radio transmission in the early eighties. At that time we intended to establish a pirate FM station after the same model as in Italy. However, there were few people who could help us build an appropriate transmitter and it was difficult to find a ready-made transmitter, at a reasonable price. Even a techno-freak friend, instead of giving me the instructions, warned me that within half an hour of breaking the radio regulations, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication would discover it. This negative attitude had resulted largely from the psychological stigma attached to breaking the law during World War II when the authorities strictly banned the use of short-wave radio receivers, to say nothing of transmitters.

As a result, I embarked on an independent study of transmitter technology. In the meantime, an interesting thing happened: I stumbled upon Article 4 in the Radio Regulations Book. It permits transmitting without a license if the power is very weak and is intended to accommodate wireless microphones and remote-control toys, for example. Under this regulation, quite a few wireless transmitters were sold in toy stores and electronic markets. Also, several audio-parts makers sold the wireless stereo transmitters to link amplifiers to speakers without wires. My idea was to use this type of tiny unit for radio transmitting.

At the beginning, I was dubious about the power of this level of transmission. During several tests of small ready-made FM transmitters, however, we found that some of them could cover a half-mile radius. Presumably, the sensitivity of radio receivers had increased beyond the Ministry's estimation when they established the regulation in the 1950s.

I, as a commentator of popular cultures, started to make this idea public in various kinds of periodicals using the opportunities that I had in popular magazines. My book provoked strong responses. The next stage transpired quickly and dramatically. In late 1982, my students started Radio Polybucket, a station using a small transmitter on the university campus and then developed it to Radio Home Run renting an independent room outside the campus.

Meantime, the similar things happened among students, coffee shop owners, musicians, advertising agents, designers and so on, who started their stations. The mass media who looked for new youth cultures widely published and televised the news about the radio stations. This news had a strong impact on young people and the media. Whenever popular journalism addressed this kind of news item, the number of Mini FM stations increased. Even major advertising agencies tried to open Mini FM stations. The exact number is unknown, but it can be estimated from the number of small transmitters sold that, in a year, over one thousand stations appeared in Japan. People on college campuses, in housing complexes, coffee shops and bars, stalls at street fairs and even local offices started Mini FM stations. More than ten companies, including Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Hitachi and Sony, sold a transmitter labelled " For Mini FM use".

[ rather than ]
The boom was fantastic in a sense, but it puzzled us. Many of these stations seemed to us be naively copying professional radio studio work. To the contrary, we paid attention to constant and serious listeners. We wanted to provide a community of people with alternative information on politics and social change.

In Radio Home Run, every day, from 8 PM to midnight, one or two groups aired talk or music programs. Themes depended on who was host and who were guests. The members always invited new guests who were involved in political or cultural activism. Also, listeners who lived close to the station hesitantly began to visit. To repeat the telephone number during each program was our basic policy. Guests sometimes recorded cassette tapes of our programs and let their friends listen. Radio Home Run quickly became a meeting place for students, activists, artists, workers, owners of small shops, local politicians, men, women and the elderly. The function was rather than to the listener: they tended to want to come to the station.

(the early Radio Polybucket and Home Run)