Mbanna Kantako is the originator of the micro-radiomovement.
Kantako, a blind black man from Springfield, Illinois, started his "pirate" radio station, Human Rights Radio, on November 25, 1987. Starting with just a 1-watt transmitter he bought through a mail-order service, he was able to transmit to roughly eight blocks, enough to reach not only thousands of listeners in the community but the City Hall complex in downtown Springfield, as well. Focusing on issues of social injustice, he became somewhat of a local celebrity and the voice of the community. The name of the station progressed from WTRA, Zoom Black Magic Radio, Black Liberation Radio, and then to the final evolution, Human Rights Radio.
He started with the purpose of giving the poor, dilapidated, mostly black community a voice on the airwaves that mostly left out issues pertaining to the community, and for three years operated unthouched. In 1990, Kantako received his first notice to disband the "pirate" station from the FCC, who slapped him with a fine of $750 and possible jail time (though Kantako was able to access the technology needed to broadcast, he was still "broke, blind, and black", going up against a large government agency). The FCC backed down after he failed to reach their demands, and refrained from going any further with legal action. In response, Kantako made the station a 24/7 exploit, and with his wife Dia and later his children, created a radio station that made the people's voice heard.
According to close friend Mike Townsend, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Illinois:
"Kantako's current transmitter, a 1530 watt, $600 model that covers a 3 mile radius was purchased with donations of $100 each from six prominent scholars; Noam Chomsky, Ed Herman, Ben Bagdikian, Herbert Schiller, Michael Parenti and Sidney Willhelm...Kantako realized he had stumbled across a model of social action that could be used in low income neighborhoods across the country...Recognizing that he did not have the resources or technical expertise to get broadcasting kits into the hands of others, Kantako instead sought to promote his station as an idea that could be duplicated by others...An excellent article by Richard Shereikis in the Illinois Times got the ball rolling. Black. Blind. Poor. On welfare. In public housing. One Watt. Illegal. Defying the system. Radical. The story was irresistible. NPR, NFTV, The L.A. Times, Spin Magazine and dozens of others eventually did stories. The idea went national, even international."
Kantako survived the city housing authority tearing down the projects that he started his "illegal" station, the John Hay site. In 1995, after 8 years of running his station (5 of those years 24/7) and organizing rallies and marches against such atrocities as police brutality (rampant in his community), Kantako moved to a new apartment...and set his station back up in 90 minutes. Over the course of his station's 13-year broadcast, Kantako would move nine times, and set the station up in about the same amount of time.
Kantako's message was of social justice and rights for the common citizen that had been slowly taken away by the concentration of power to the top 5% of the economic pyramid. On September 29, 2000, the FCC finally raided his home, confiscated the materials he needed to broadcast his signal, and cut the cords to his antenna. By then, Human Rights Radio I and II were up, with I broadcasting for 13 years, and almost 10 of them non-stop.
Thus, Kantako spread the idea of micro-radio, otherwise known as guerrilla radio (a popular idea from Abbie Hoffman's book, "Steal This Book" as well as a popular Rage Against the Machine Song). Radio Free anything nowadays is a cause of his efforts. Kantako gave the movement the kick-start that currently set over 1000 "pirate" stations nationwide to their missions, according to the FCC.
Mbanna Kantako is an invisible innovator amongst an invisible cause, that gets major attention from the government but none from the mainstream media it so vehemiantly opposes.
For more detailed info about Kantako, see http://www.freeradio.org/mabanna1.pdf
For more info on what exactly low-power transmitting is, see the FCC's site: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/lowpwr.html