May 1, 2004

You're on the air. Go ahead please: How I made my own radio broadcast and how you can too

This is a first-person behind-the-scenes look of a live radio web broadcast held in Chicago to cover the March 20, 2004 peace protests. But our story actually begins in November 2003 in Miami.

Representatives from 34 countries met in Miami in mid-November 2003 to implement a trade regime for the Western hemisphere at a ministerial of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The ministerial was met by tens of thousands of protesters from across the hemisphere. Authorities fought back with a citywide lockdown, hundreds of arrests, and massive numbers of police-caused beatings, plus wanton use of teargas and electroshock weapons.

Although the corporate media (aside from Miami's coverage) barely acknowledged the repression or even the event, the whole world was listening anyway.

A team of Indymedia broadcasters organized a webcast for the events of the ministerial. They aired five days of radio and call-in coverage broadcast on the internet, roughly seventeen hours per day. Archives of the broadcast proved highly useful during the protests, and especially valuable as evidence in the subsequent protester-led lawsuits against the city of Miami and its police department.

Fast forward to mid-March 2004, Chicago. Protests were being organized for the one year anniversary of the protest takeover of Lake Shore Drive. No one knew what would happen at the protest, but the city was denying protest permits and deeming the protest illegal. The peace movement in Chicago could well face another Ashcroft moment, and I had to help as best I could. I felt that the best way to contribute was to Be The Media and organize a webcast of my own for March 20, particularly if there were any Miami-scale arrests.

I contacted the Miami broadcasters as well as the global Indymedia audio collective to learn what I had to do. I found out that I would need at a minimum the following equipment:

(1) Microphones or other audio input
(2) An audio mixing board
(3) A computer with an internet connection and software to upload the audio broadcast.
(4) A web server to receive the audio upload and broadcast it to the world.

Microphones and mixing boards are relatively easy and cheap; most Radio Shack outlets carry a variety of both types of equipment. Sofware platforms are abundant on the internet. You can find specialized software bundles for Mac (like Nicecast at, Linux (like Darkice, at, and even Windows (like Winamp, at I leveraged some Indymedia connecctions to reserve some server space with an Indymedia server in New York City for this webstream, though you can set up server arrangements at streaming services like (some software like Nicecast allow your computer to serve as its own server).

But things would get trickier by bringing into the equation a telephone line and music CDs for occasional unanticipated downtimes. I was lucky to have technical help from both with Indymedia and from radio station WZRD. When one planned setup went awry (about ten hours before showtime), I shifted to a relatively simpler plan and connected phone calls to speakerphone placed right next to my microphone.

The announced plan was to start broadcasting at 8am on March 20, and run the broadcast through 6pm at least--later if jail solidarity efforts so warranted. But this plan had to be thrown out too: the broadcast started about twenty minutes earlier than planned as the day's first arrived at 7:40 AM.

That first phone call came from the Thirty Mile March -- a protest march which began 6:30 AM at MacArthur Park and 67th Street and which walked all the way to downtown, growing in size as it met with feeder marches and rallies throughout the south side.

I also heard from a packed rally at Chicago Temple, from breakaway marches downtown, from the main gathering at Michigan and Pearson as our listeners were learned about the police flyers deeming the assembly as an illegal gathering. I even got regular dispatches from Milwaukee as some one thousand protesters marched in Wisconsin.

Thanks to negotiations with the police, the day's main protest march was able to proceed with very few arrests (if it hadn't, I would probably still be on the air with continuing jail solidarity efforts since everyone at that march would have been arrested). I got phone calls from both the front and rear of the march just minutes apart (that's some fast eyes!) as it proceeded west along Chicago then south along Clark towards Federal Plaza. I also got two phone calls with differing opinions of Jesse Jackson's negotiations with the police at the front of the march--one crediting him with helping to avert hundreds of arrests, the other deeming him an utter sellout who caved in to the police's demands to avoid Michigan Avenue.

Amid all of this, I was typing in the choicest headlines on Chicago Indymedia's website as time allowed, so that readers could follow a real-time headline scroll which I maintained during the broadcast. Plus, I kept listeners informed of the series of antiwar protests which spanned the globe, including a protest lockdown at Carnegie Mellon University at Pittsburgh.

The March 20 Chicago webstream got some additional coverage by being rebroadcast on a number of other over-the-air radio stations. One email I received during the webstream told me that Free Radio Arrrgh in Urbana- Champaign was rebroadcasting my webstream on radio downstate. Plus, I was told that WZRD was rebroadcasting portions of our coverage. If Jerry Lewis has the Love Network of broadcasters for his labor day telethons, I had what I called the Peace Out Network (inspired by one caller who ended one phone call with "Peace Out!").

Two choice memories stick indelibly in my mind. One was that the global Indymedia website featured all four US Indymedia March 20 webstreams: Chicago -- which got listed first! -- plus San Francisco, Washington DC, and Portland, Oregon.

The other was a solidarity song sung near the end of the broadcast by our primary Milwaukee correspondent. The song was "The Teargas Anthem" written by someone named Desert Rat. I looked up the lyrics to the song on the internet and read the song's lyrics aloud, and found myself vainly trying to hold back tears:

I will stand beside your shoulder when the tear gas fills the sky,
If a National Guardsman shoots me down, I'll be looking him in the eye.
I will wash their pepper from your face and go with you to jail,
And if you don't make it through this fight I swear I'll tell your tale.
I will stay with you in the prison cell in solidarity
And I will not leave that cursed room 'til you walk out with me.
For we the people fight for freedom while the cops just fight for pay,
And as long as the truth is in our hearts we're sure to win someday.

If I hadn't done this webcast, I probably wouldn't have learned about this song which alone would have justified the weeks of organizing and preparatory work. Nor would have I bonded with a lot of people whom I wouldn't have met otherwise. Plus, the webstream adds to the growing chorus of voices who are transforming increasingly available and low-cost media equipment into tools for social justice and world peace. I could dream of no higher goal.

Epilogue: All ten-plus hours of the webstream coverage have been posted to the Chicago Indymedia website (, look for the links under "radio project").