Hannah Sassaman — Banned from the National Association of Broadcasters Since 2002

I was feeling
February 26, 2010, 2:56 am
Filed under: 'media justice', the revolution, video

I was feeling kind of down after a workday cooped up at home, but then I read these two things and feel like I just drank a shot of clarity and awesome.

1)  This weird and wonderful article on creating your own luck, from the Telegraph circa 2003:


Self-help-y but in the best way.  All about having the clarity and confidence in yourself to notice opportunities — and the trust, instinct and experience to take them.  The best stuff in my life happened to me that way.

2)  Then I read this master class on video production and translation from two recent Narco News Authentic Journalism school grads:


The video profiles the contrast between the Egyptian goverment’s praise of its police force and that force’s record of torture, as well as the struggle against it.  Watch the video but also read the article to learn some hot download and editing tricks, and be wowed by the patience and focus required to edit and produce something effective — in a language you don’t understand.

Off to meet one of the videomakers at a great local bar.  Bye!

Low Power FM Passes the House of Representatives!
December 17, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: 'media justice', 'media reform', fcc, radio, the revolution, Uncategorized

A number of people have asked me to do a little bit of writing on a big moment for community media justice — the passage of the low power FM radio bill out of the House of Representatives last night.

The bill was brought to the house floor for the very first time on December 16th — directly after the joyful and bipartisan introduction of a resolution to honor A. Phillip Randolphorganizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a lion of the labor and civil rights movements.

Randolph believed in community media as a vital tool to build the movement for economic and racial justice.  In 1917, he founded The Hotel Messenger — a magazine that fearlessly espoused the political vision and personal stories of a community suffering greatly under class and racial discrimination and brutality.  The paper exposed corruption in uniform sales to sidewaiters in New York and regularly told worker and community stories.  He used his movement and his paper to plan visionary marches on Washington for fair employment and civil rights, and to engage in a rhetoric of change that rose above partisan argument:

“Our aim is to appeal to reason, to lift our pens above the cringing demagogy of the times… Patriotism has no appeal to us; justice has.  Party has no weight with us, principle has.  Loyalty is meaningless; it depends on what one is loyal to.”

That’s the kind of media that we need now – media that rises above a ‘cringing demagogy’ that oppresses rather than liberates us.  What an honor for the bill to expand Low Power FM to be brought to the floor the same day as Randolph’s resolution.

I spent the larger part of my 20s inside the low power FM movement — helping to build radio stations with the Prometheus Radio Project.   Low power FM stations are amazing and unique as snowflakes.  The transmitters are these incredible little boxes — shiny lights like computer servers with a thick coaxial cable coming out — winding up to a flagpole antenna on the top of a roof.  Pasquo, Tennessee’s WRFN-LP hoisted their tower up with ropes, pulleys, and a hundred hands after a rainstorm.   In Woodburn, Oregon, the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos de Noroeste put KPCN-LP’s antenna on top of a water tower.  Best view I’ve ever seen.

I remember building transmitters with Ugandan women in a blackout outside of Nairobi, producing radio plays in Tennessee, and the benediction given by the Holy Ghost priest who led the Southern Development Foundation at the first moments on the air of KOCZ-FM – Opelousas Community Zydeco radio.

When I think of community radio, I think of these moments of magic and how wonderful my time building these stations was.  But we don’t fight to expand community radio because of the magic and the beautyAs special as that is.  We fight to expand community radio because it – and all community media – is a necessary tool for survival and freedom in our society and in societies around the world.

Then-Federal Communications Commissioner Chairman Bill Kennard was invited at the turn of the millennium to South Africa to help their country build their telecommunications regulation — or so the story begins.  He was invited to visit Bush Radio — Africa’s oldest community radio station and an instrument of liberation and struggle that helped bring South Africa out of apartheid.  Kennard was scheduled to spend 20 minutes with station founder Zane Ibrahim and his comrades — but he spent over 4 hours studying how people built power with and through the station, how it developed leaders, how vital it was to the community.  The station houses a day care center, a radio school for kids age 6-18, a hip hop curriculum for musicians doing outreach around AIDS.

What Kennard saw, he wanted to bring to a movement that was already flourishing in the US.  Dozens of unlicensed stations were popping up – from Springfield, Illinois to New York to California.  The pressure of those pirate radio stations and the organizing of incredible leaders from faith, legal, and music communities made licensed low power community radio a reality.

Big broadcasters stood in the way for years.  Despite millions of dollars of impartial engineering evidence proving there was plenty of room, the big broadcasters kept low power FM out of almost every big city and most smaller communities in the United States.  For ten years.  But this year, the incredible coalition of deejays-turned-to-self-taught-engineering-experts, of rock stars, of Catholic, Methodist, and UCC churchgoers, of civil rights leaders, made it happen and passed a bill to expand low power FM to hundreds of new communities.

In the House of Representatives, that is.  But I can see the other side of the Senate vote.  In weeks coming — sooner than later — the vote will be done and then the real work will begin.

Low power FM radio station licenses are free to community groups.  Once the bill is fully passed, the FCC will start work and get ready to open a window — one more chance for unions and city councils and schools to get a voice that changes the face of their communities forever.  For those of us connected to incredible movement leaders nationwide — from Detroit to West Virginia to South Texas — we have a responsibility to help these leaders apply for these rare tools.

If we take responsibility now, and coordinate, our families and kids will travel through a future country filled with the sounds of our voices rather than the sounds of voices aimed at silencing us.  I can’t wait to live there with all of you.

Collected Resources on Helping Out in New Orleans Now
August 31, 2008, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

(UPDATE — a few sites seem to be pointing folks this way, so i’m going to keep this post up and add more resources, like an update from the houma nation, to the comments.  keep checking the gustav wiki and brownfemipower, best sites for updates so far.  and i’ll keep posting practical ways to help over the next days, if that’s helpful — hjs)

hey all, hannah sassaman, formerly of prometheus radio project and now of seiu healthcare pennsylvania delurking to talk about the hurricane for a second.

i’m sure that many of you are trying to figure out what you can do to support people who are leaving new orleans and the regions surrounding it.  i’m in touch with a number of folks on the ground collecting money to buy resources to support people who must stay in the city or who are choosing not to leave.

one challenge that has come up is that many residents of the city don’t trust that they can leave, and come back, to their homes.  it took many of them 18 months to two years to get back to their communities.  so there’s an effort underway to raise money in cities outside of NOLA, where many folks are being evacuated to.  organizers on the ground are hoping that with a safety net of money and logistical support, more folks will be able to leave for their safety, while the communities battle hard for the right to return.  that project is still in development, but i’ll write more here when i know where folks are collecting money for that.  write me if you are available for it.

INCITE! women of color against violence is collecting money to bond out prisoners from the new orleans jails — http://brownfemipower.com/archives/2871

jim ellinger, who i worked with in 2003 when a number of us set up a licensed low power FM station with evacuees from the new orleans superdome, is working on communications support for new orleans.   he’s likely overwhelmed, but looking for equipment and funds for ham radio and other two-way radio infrastructure.  if you can help even a bit — or you have contacts with communications experts in the southeast — call him at 512-796-4332 or write him at jimedia@grandecom.net. not sure when he’s driving from austin to NOLA.

andy carvin is setting up an online resources page for volunteers hoping to help from afar — http://www.andycarvin.com/ — including the gustav information center — http://gustav08.ning.com/

and common ground relief — with many more resources than they had when katrina came through — is looking for donations to support their search-and-rescue work and immediate support work after the storm — as well as the work they are doing to help folks get out of the city right now — http://www.commongroundrelief.org/ .

any other news/links to share?  i’d really like to know how folks in houma are doing.  the houma nation, which applied for a community radio station, is right in the path of the storm.

The Future of Policy Organizing at the Allied Media Conference
June 21, 2008, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Crossposted at Open Left and the Free Press Action Network.

Hey guys — I’m Hannah Sassaman. For the past six years I’ve been an organizer at the Prometheus Radio Project — working to expand community radio station availability to every city in the country. As I transition out of Prometheus (and head over to do political communications with SEIU), I’m getting some perspective on the two major worlds I’ve come from — and my vision of how totally kickass policy change can happen, now and in the future.

Those two worlds. One of those worlds is a policy world. With my single, all-weather, threadbare suit, I’ve walked the halls of Capitol Hill, fighting the big broadcasters as they’ve tried to keep community radio out of our cities. With great allies like Free Press, Future of Music, the United Church of Christ, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and many other members of the Media and Democracy Coalition, I learned about horsetrading and bargaining and swaps. Our bill, the Local Community Radio Act, is on its way to pass this year or next — finally expanding community radio to thousands of towns, eight years after it was crippled by big broadcasters. What an education. What a ride.

But everything I’ve learned in Washington has been grounded in the work of communities across the country — youth who have decided that they want a radio station to talk about the dropout rate in their schools, or farmworkers using their radio stations to fight for rights in the tomato fields. We have been able to get legislators to buck the demands of the big broadcasters through many strategies — but the best one has been individuals and groups taking the time to speak directly to their legislators about what they need.

I ask myself the question all the time: why do we limit our vision of policies that really serve us, when we have such an incredible, growing movement of progressive and radical people fighting effectively for what they need? Why do we accept what policymakers tell us is winnable? When we deserve so, so much more?

As I get ready to leave telecommunications policy for awhile, I’ve developed more and more faith in the power of everyday people to internalize the nuances of policy debates, and, using their local connections, to get legislators to support measures that really represent them. But the most important piece of organizing around policy — and a piece that I think we have missed more than once in the media reform movement — is making sure that the vision for a future we deserve comes directly from communities. Once we know what we want — the most beautiful, radical vision of a media we deserve — we can work our magic policy powers to win that vision, and nothing less.

Today, almost a thousand people are gathering in Detroit, Michigan (one of them being new guest blogger at OpenLeft, BrownFemiPower for the tenth annual Allied Media Conference (http://www.alliedmediaconference.org). There are very few places I know where our vision of a better world can not only reach high heights — but be translated into practical policy organizing and alternative infrastructure building.

Here’s some of the folks holding it down at AMC right now:

— The People’s Production House in New York doesn’t just put high schoolers, domestic workers, and immigrants on the radio — it also brings these people into the heart of how the internet works in New York and around the country. When New York State fights to rubber-stamp telecommunications franchises for the forseeable future, these workers and students take the lead in fighting for the franchise to represent them, not the needs of big telecommunications companies. People’s Production House has designed the entire policy track at this year’s AMC — focusing on the future of the internet.

— The security session, held down by the Texas Media Empowerment Project and my friend Deanne Cuellar, jumps out at me as policy meeting practicality. Organizers fighting crackdown on immigration and the rights of poor people in our cities and countryside are worried about the privacy of their communications — and the limits and possibilities of fighting for justice online. If today’s FISA vote and the anger about telecom companies getting a free pass for spying on us, had ricoched across the movements of justice reflected at the AMC, would we have been able to keep CHC members, and CBC members like Congressman Clyburn and Energy and Commerce members like Butterfield and Rush from caving?

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence is spearheading a powerful suite of workshops. I’m especially excited about People’s Statistics: Putting Participatory Research to Work. The brainchild of the young people of Detroit Summer’s Live Arts Media Project , I can’t think of anything more practical than learning how we can research ourselves and the powers which limit our movements, then push forward change and policies that center on the truths we learn and know. What if our research was at the heart of new legislation and regulations from the local to the national level?

We have so much to learn when it comes to making and pushing policies that we deserve. In an era of incremental change and regression to level of stasis that we accept as the way things are, we have to put the voices of these leaders at the center of our political debate.

Free Media and Human Rights in Pakistan
November 10, 2007, 2:16 am
Filed under: 'media justice'

I’m watching the final official public hearing on media ownership — in Seattle, Washington — and thinking about the impact the goverment and corporate domination have over the rights of regular people, here and around the world.

This photograph was submitted to the New York Times by a reader of the paper from Pakistan today:


Check out that “Free the Media” sign!

And earlier today, that photo was on the very front of their website. It’s also the posted-at-the-top photo they are using on the top of their ‘The Lede’ blog, where they are asking Pakistani readers of the times to send their photos, stories, audio, and comments to the paper, as the government tightens their crackdown on community freedoms:


One commenter had this to say:

“Report on the protest. Students across the country are organizing themselves and protesting. Please keep the news on your front pages so that our voices aren’t silenced the way that Musharraf has silenced our media.”

It’s moments like this which remind me why local, national, and global media are life and death issues. Those struggling for their freedom in Pakistan, and all of us, need access to an accountable local press to make change, and to tell the world when injustice threatens to silence us.

Full Power Lift Off — and Low Power FM!
October 12, 2007, 4:18 am
Filed under: fcc, radio, rants

Over here at the Prometheus Radio Project, we are lucky enough to have an amazing team of interns, volunteers, staff, and allies who have been working to tell as many folks as possible about their last chance to get a big, noncommercial radio station for their communities. One room of our three room office was converted into a call center — just in time for hundreds of calls, from Florida to Maine to Kansas to Alabama to Wyoming and beyond, to pour into our basement office.

The full power team is waiting, now, for the moment where the FCC opens up their website to receive the painstakingly-filled-out applications, from social justice coalitions working for community rights in Mississippi — to ACORN affiliates in Connecticut — to symphony orchestras without an outlet for classical music in towns across the nation. Now that the Commission has decided to limit the number of applications that any one group can file, strong, local groups have a much better chance of getting that construction permit from the Commission — their ticket to begin putting up a tower, assembling a studio, and finally going on the air.

But as focused as the full power team is right now on the details of getting these applications together, one by one, with groups across the nation — the largest part of our movement’s work to build strong local radio is just beginning. As Zane Ibrahim, founder of South Africa’s legendary grassroots radio station, Bush Radio, likes to say — community radio is 10 percent radio — and 90 percent community.

“Why do people want community radio stations?” I get asked that all the time — usually by guys with Bluetooth cell-phone adapters in their ears, and personal electronic devices in each hand. “Can’t people connect online? On blogs? On MySpace?” People do connect online, and we have to make sure that people’s power over the internet grows, rather than declines in the face of big broadcasters. But while these technologies are more and more available across the nation and around the world, we’ve found that a bricks-and-mortar community radio station makes different people come together to share a resource — kids and grandparents, immigrants and politicians, Christians, 80’s hair metal enthusiasts, science-fiction hip hop connosieurs, and your local superintendent of schools. Community radio builds community, in our cities and towns — at least, that’s the idea.

For every full power FM radio station that goes to radical infoshops in Kentucky and youth music collectives in Michigan, there are dozens, if not hundreds, more groups that lost out this time around — possibly the last time that the FCC will ever give out full power FM radio stations for free to regular people with something to say in their local area. In many cases, their city had too many stations on the dial for them to be able to apply for a 5000 or 50,000 watt frequency. Other groups deliberated over the cost of hiring an engineer to fill out their application — a few thousand dollars — money that’s hard to come by for a collective just starting out — radio a twinkle in their eye.

For all these groups that won’t get a radio station as a result of this rare, full power FM window — and for all the thousands of other organizations that have been waiting for years and decades to build their own radio stations — we have to turn to the next phase of the fight to expand community media — low power FM radio (LPFM).

Back in 2000, groups like the ones I named, and scores of other people across the country, organized at the FCC untill they started the low power FM radio service — an inexpensive, local way for community groups to build their own radio stations. Broadcasting at 100 watts, these stations were meant to serve small communities in America’s biggest cities — and thousands of smaller suburbs and towns across the

However, our country’s biggest broadcasters did what they usually do when real people want to use a resource reserved for the American people — they cried ‘interference’ — pretending like there would be a technical problem if thousands of churches, municipalities, and other non profits took to their own airwaves. They said that if you put a small station on the air — at 100 watts or less — next to a big station in a big city — that the little station would cause ‘oceans of interference’ — making the Clear Channels and NPR’s of the world unlistenable for thousands of people in the area.

The FCC thought that that the claims of the big broadcasters were unfounded, to put it politely, and fought to keep the service the way it was. Still, our legislators thought that there was enough concern about LPFM to limit it to places like Opelousas, Louisiana — rather than New Orleans — Chanute, Kansas, rather than Kansas City — and so on. Because of the Congressional restriction on how we could use our own airwaves, over 70 percent of the potential licenses were lost — thousands of new community voices
were silenced.

Congress ordered the FCC to study what potential interference LPFMs might cause if they were allowed to be licensed closer on the dial to big stations. They commissioned an independent firm, the MITRE corporation, to determine whether or not LPFMs would cause interference — once and for all. Their study came back crystal clear — there was
plenty of room for LPFMs all over the country — and now was the time to expand this service all across the nation.

We’ve been waiting since 2003 for bills to pass in Congress, but now, because of the media organizing people like you are doing around the nation, we have a real shot. Congressmembers Mike Doyle, the Democrat from Pittsburgh and Lee Terry, the Republican from Nebraska, introduced a bill this summer which is poised to expand LPFM to your community and across the nation. Their bill, the Local Community Radio Act of 2007, House Bill 2802, would take the MITRE study’s findings into account, and allow thousands more groups to get a small slice of the airwaves that they own.

The Senate is acting on this too — Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has joined with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to introduce their companion bill in the Senate — Senate Bill 1675.

The House bill has over 50 cosponsors, and the Senate bill is due to move fast — but, just like we’ve been doing at the FCC, we need to keep pushing our legislators to cosponsor these vital pieces of legislation. No big lobbying groups are going to win more community
radio for us — we need to come together to ask our legislators to bring radio stations to us.

Believe me — your letter or phonecall to your legislator is 100 times more powerful than anything that a lobbyist in Washington, DC can do. Let’s win more community radio stations for all of us — today — by asking our Senators and Congressmembers to cosponsor the Local Community Radio Act of 2007!

Play Ball: Responding to Nancy’s Post at Huffington
June 29, 2007, 4:44 am
Filed under: 'media reform', NCMR2007, radio, rants

So Nancy Scola wrote a really interesting post at the Huffington Post yesterday — all about talk radio and its relationship to the ownership infrastructure in our corporate media. On my way back from hanging out with the Future of Music Coalition and the wicked charming gentlemen of OK Go, who were stumping for low power FM radio on Capitol Hill and spending some quality time with Local Community Radio Act of 2007 sponsors Mr. Lee Terry and Mr. Mike Doyle, I wanted to comment there. Sadly the Huffington peeps only let you post 350 words at a time, and no room for links! Here’s my thoughts on the relationship between low power FM and opportunities for ‘progressive’ talkers to learn their trade and gain opportunities to succeed on the radio dial:

I really like the baseball metaphor here, Nancy. Let’s take it one step further: We don’t just need double and triple-A teams for progressive (and dare I say local?) talkers to hone their craft — we need Little League.

Cities and towns band around things like high school plays, public school and community sports, and city council meetings not because there’s nothing better to watch on HBO or because there isn’t an arena rock concert or Broadway-caliber show in town. We get a chance to celebrate, appreciate and learn from our neighbors in the most vital ways when we wholeheartedly support their political, athletic, and creative work. Municipalities, local businesses, and churches fund enterprises like this because they are the lifeblood of healthy communities — and when personal or community-wide crises strike, relationships built on the bleachers at the soccer field or in the pews at church end up saving lives.

This is why we need to expand low power FM radio — now, today. Low power FM (LPFM) radio stations are broadcasting in over 800 communities across the United States. They serve broadcast ranges of about 5 miles, at 100 watts, with noncommercial content, always licensed to local nonprofit organizations. From Radio Free Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, to Radio Bird Street in Oroville, California, to the Historic Radio Museum of Ligonier, Indiana, to Portsmouth Community Radio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to La Voz de la Gente of Woodburn, Oregon, to the Black Chamber of Commerce’s station in Sacramento to WRFU in Urbana, Illinois, and beyond — local radio stations are reflecting, involving, and improving the daily discourse in their local communities. (Notice how these stations are thriving in communities where conservative talk has an unquestioned iron grip on the airwaves?)

(In some cases — like Immokalee, Florida and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi — these stations save lives — because they are run by volunteers, able to stay on the air through terrible hurricanes and storms, and deeply relevant to their local communities, so the go-to place to turn for local emergency information.)

Without a healthy distribution of high school and college radio stations, these venues are often the only places where a young hotshot can learn to handle a mic as well as to handle a well-turned phrase. If Clear Channel and their ilk dominate the hiring and training process of new talk radio show hosts, producers, and corporate domineers, then it is deeply unlikely that our young Future Talkers of America, whatever their political stripes, will find a place to shine in their chosen career.

Our friends at the National Association of Broadcasters — the lobbying group that represents the consolidated broadcasters who have killed progressive talk — have deeply limited low power FM radio to only the most rural areas, convincing Congress in 2000 that these stations could interfere with full power broadcasts if packed onto the radio dial. Even though the FCC designed the program to serve cities too, and for low power FM radio in America’s big cities and suburbs, as well as small, rural communities, Congress has not moved to expand low power FM to the thousands of places that need it.

Luckily, Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE) and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) just joined Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in cosponsoring the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 — HR 2802, and S 1675. This bill would bring LPFM to almost every major American city, and to hundreds, if not thousands, of other communties.

I want to turn around in 20 years and see vital debate on the airwaves, telling local, regional, and national stories with passion. As Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said at this year’s National Conference for Media Reform (and I paraphrase) — if we train a generation of youth to understand that the airwaves belong to them — and we hand them a microphone so they can learn to effect change in their communities — they will expect the next generation of communications infrastructure to be theirs, and in the service of diverse local needs, first and foremost. They will not understand why it should be any other way.

You can call your Congressmembers, and ask them to cosponsor the Local Community Radio Act, by getting started at prometheusradio.org or at Free Press’ great site. Or sign your name to expandlpfm.org.

It’s a small step — but it’s one key tool we need in the fight for more voices on our airwaves. Play ball!