Remembering Zane Ibrahim

Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio in South Africa has just passed away. I’d like to take the opportunity of his passing to share the story of one small thing that he did which made an enormous difference.

In 1997, the movement to free the airwaves in the United States was in full swing. There were approximately a thousand pirate radio stations, all defying the unjust broadcast regulations in a massive campaign of electronic civil disobedience. When William Kennard took office as the Chairman of the FCC the radio pirates were pretty worried because his last job had been chief counsel to the National Association of Broadcasters, the chief opponents of free radio in the United States. And in fact, within a month of coming into office, Chairman Kennard initiated a series of simultaneous raids on pirate radio stations, utilizing agents from the FCC, local police, FBI, and other law enforcement agencies. Radio Mutiny of Philadelphia (which the Prometheus Radio Project sparked off of), got raided shortly after, but responded with a public demonstration and open air broadcast.

As the campaign of defiance gathered steam, Chairman Kennard visited South Africa on a tour promoting US interests in telecommunications in Africa. He visited Bush Radio, and met with their founder, Zane Ibrahim. Bush Radio had started under the Apartheid regime as an illegal pirate radio operation, but had been granted a license under the new democratically elected government. They have since grown to become one of the most influential community radio stations in Africa, providing a wide variety of services to their community in Cape Town. During the tour of Bush Radio, Kennard saw their community classes, their production rooms, and dozens of people busy around the station making community radio. At one point, Kennard mentioned that there were unlicensed broadcasters in the United States that wanted community radio licenses, and asked Zane’s opinion. Zane said to Chairman Kennard (paraphrase from memory of his story): “We have only been free for a few years and look at what we have built here. The US has been free for 200 years and your laws still prevent people from building places like Bush Radio?” Zane did not know us, had no contact with us. But he knew just the right answer to Chairman Kennard’s question.

After his visit, Chairman Kennard spoke several times in public about his experience visiting Bush Radio, and how seeing that station in action inspired him to work hard to make legal community broadcasting a reality in the US.
Over the powerful and politically influential objections of his former employers at the broadcasting association, Mr. Kennard created a new set of rules allowing 100 watt community radio stations in the US. There are now thousands of new licenses as a result.
Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio inspired a new way of thinking about radio among the decision makers of the United States. Zane was a profoundly inspiring man, we could not have done it without him.


Thanks to Pete Tridish for writing this story.