The Many Hats of Peter Franck by Kate Coleman

Peter Franck has always managed to integrate his varied intellectual interests with his passionate politics and his profession as a lawyer. His career extends from the Free Speech Movement of Mario Savio, and the Vietnam War days, when he worked as an anti-draft attorney, to his private practice through the years specializing in cultural and entertainment law–with a client list including such counter-culture icons as anti-war, leftist troubadour, Country Joe (MacDonald).

His interests and expertise in media matters also saw him serve as President of the Pacifica Foundation –1980-1984–parent of the frequently tumultuous KPFA FM, calling for some unorthodox skills as well as legal smarts. As one former manager of KPFA described him, “Peter is one of the Godfathers of Pacifica.”

Since the early ’90s, he has scored impressive wins that have brought about new laws and change in the media landscape nation-wide–not the least of which have occurred under the auspices of the Lawyers’ Guild’s Committee on Democratic Communications (CDC) whose goal is to make US communication more accessible to all by supporting individual and alternative media, especially, as it has turned out, Low Power FM radio (LPFM). LPFM typically is 100 watts, while KPFA for example is 59,000 watts. The biggest obstacle to democratic radio was the FCC policy of not even accepting applications for radio at low power, thus making getting any new station on the air a prohibitively costly ticket item.

The CDC worked on a Guild position on media issues, for example putting on a seminars on issues such of Media Concentration, The First Amendment Limitations vs Interational Law requirements of a positive Right to Communicate. Then, a live case came over the transom. “Free Radio Berkeley”, an unlicensed 1 watt radio station broadcast initially from the studio of design engineer Stephen Dunifer.and subsequently from a kit tucked into his backpack and toted up to the Berkeley Hills. In the early 1990s Dunifer was slapped by an FCC lawsuit filed in SF Federal Court. His Sunday night broadcasts during the first Gulf War were wrap-ups of anti-war demonstrations around the world that he’d gleaned from a nascent Internet. The FCC’s lawsuit sought an injunction, but Dunifer, with his attorney contacted the CDC, and Peter as chair sprang into action. CDC member Luke Hiken represented Dunifer at the hearing, Franck represented the Guild as Amicus.

A 100 page CDC brief prepared by law student Alan Korn, supervised by Peter showed that the FCC licensing rules were unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment and International law.

Peter argued the case for the CDC and Hiken for his client. Said Peter about the hearing before Judge Claudia Wilkin in SF Federal court, “We didn’t expect to win. The statute was clear–you needed a license that Dunifer didn’t have. But the judge, to everyone’s astonishment, refused the injunction, sending it back to the FCC to reevaluate the rules in light of the Constitutional and International law arguments we’d raised.”

Says Dunifer today, “We won in the court of public opinion.” Peter added that technology caught up with the ideas of the CDC and all over the country new LPFM stations appeared– some 900, Peter estimates.

The final victory was that the FCC contacted the CDC and in a gesture of defeat, invited CDC representatives to come to Washington and help the agency revise its regulations to allow low power community radio.

Since then, Peter has been a powerful impetus in starting up two community media enterprises –the Community Media Center of Marin, now controlling more than three community based channels in a modern studio; and the brand new LPFM community radio (KACR) in Alameda which Peter shepherded –wearing his negotiating hat–in a deal resulting in sharing facility space with the local high school and the frequency with the high school and Poor Magazine.

Not surprisingly, he is as proud of his latest successes as he is his successful dueling with the Feds of the FCC.