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
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!
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