Media Watch

LIBERTY FOR ALL? Harrison Shaffer, a KXCI member, is alarmed that his politically progressive community radio station is airing a program produced by what has been called a right-wing hate group.

The one-minute show, "First Liberties," features the comments of John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute. That Virginia-based organization describes itself as "a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated." But according to the liberal organization Turn Left, the Rutherford Institute "is the primary institution behind a form of Christianity known as Reconstuctionism. The primary tenet of this faith is a belief that America must be re-made as a pure white 'Christian' nation with old-testament Biblical law as the law of the land. ... State-mandated executions of gays is amongst the Biblical law they wish to implement."

Shaffer says, "I found it somewhat odd that a community radio station such as KXCI would air programming from that type of group." KXCI has been airing "First Liberties" for about eight months.

Whitehead's commentaries at the Rutherford Institute Web site decry the erosion of civil rights since Sept. 11, which is the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on KXCI. But they also oppose abortion rights and support the presence of religion in civic life, which is not typical KXCI fodder.

Station program director Roger Greer acknowledges that several listeners share Shaffer's concern. "But out of the 30 segments that are available every month, we pick just the four that we feel our listeners would be especially interested in," he says. "The whole point of the show is talking about our liberties, and giving examples of people being defended or losing their liberties. Who they've defended, whether you agree with their politics or not, is not the point of the show we air.

"A show educating us about our liberties," Greer insists, "is not a bad show."

Greer says he did take earlier complaints to heart, gathered the most common objections and wrote to the Rutherford Institute, inviting it to refute the allegations. Greer says the response is on file at the station, available for public inspection.

Does "First Liberties" belong on KXCI? Decide for yourself. The brief show airs at 1 p.m. Mondays, and is repeated at 6 a.m. Wednesdays, 11 a.m. Fridays and, for night owls, 3 a.m. Saturdays.

You can do your own snooping around the Rutherford Institute by visiting

WE DIG DIGITAL: Since last week, a guy named Nathan Franzen has been driving around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in his 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix newly equipped with a $350 digital radio, the very first to be sold in the United States.

High-definition digital radio has finally come to America, with receivers having gone on sale Jan. 7. But don't bother to order yours today; in Tucson, there's nothing to listen to yet.

Don't confuse digital radio with satellite radio, which is available only by subscription from centralized services. Digital radio signals come free, from local stations. They could replace the compressed, mid-fi FM signals we've made do with for 50 years with near-CD-quality sound, plus text information you should probably ignore while driving. You'll no longer have to squander your lavishly equipped boom truck on those wimpy, bass-shy analog signals. And the historically crappy AM signals, when digitized, will be comparable to the current FM standard.

The technology behind this comes from a Maryland company called iBiquity Digital. Clear Channel owns a piece of iBiquity, so who better to ask for a local digital-radio forecast than Mike Irby, director of engineering for Clear Channel's seven Tucson stations, including KRQ-FM 93.7 and KOHT, "Hot 98"?

"Tucson and Clear Channel like to be on the cutting edge of new technology," says Irby, "but I don't know if it's going to be happening here in the coming year. It's a substantial investment (in equipment) for each station.

"But the neat thing for listeners is that the receivers will be able to receive both digital and analog signals, so you can replace your old radio instead of getting a second one just for the digital broadcasts." Digital broadcasts, he says, will duplicate the current programming.

With 15 of the nation's top 20 broadcasters behind this, and a seal of approval from the often dithering FCC, digital radio might actually succeed--unlike AM stereo, the minidisc, Betamax and quad.

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