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


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!

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First Post (On The Way To) Memphis
January 11, 2007, 10:44 pm
Filed under: 'media justice', 'media reform', NCMR2007, rants

I’m writing this from the last leg of a seventeen hour drive to Memphis, Tennessee, haven’t slept much, so this is rougher than I’d like and might get some edits later on! Prometheus, at this point in the game, has developed some expertise in loading a van with gear, volunteers, and enough of a good attitude to get us where we are going. Usually we’re trucking one or two vans worth of radical radio experts to one of our barnraisings, where we build an entire radio station over the course of a three day weekend. This time around we’re headed to the National Conference for Media Reform.

What is a conference, exactly? If my rudimentary Latin doesn’t fail me, it’s an opportunity to confer — to talk to fellow travellers, people with different kinds of knowledge, about problems, how to solve them.

I know I have a lot to learn, and that many of the people that I want to learn from will be travelling to Memphis with the same hope.

When I look forward from my cramped corner at the back of the van and ask people in the van what they’re interested in doing, it’s everything and anything from spreading the word about independent films, to getting the word out about the last chance in a generation that we’ll have to build our own full power radio stations in the USA. Others will be focused on defending and protecting their public access TV stations, or holding local corporate media accountable to youth and to people of color.

I’m always really struck by the deep and broad literacy that many of the activists I meet hold on a deep diversity of issues under the media reform umbrella. When we woke up from our fitful upright naps, squished between boxes of information about full power FM and sleeping bags and irregularly shaped Tupperwares of baba ghanouj, we stopped at a truck stop for breakfast. I spent a lot of time talking to Howard, who had just returned from Jordan, where he and his wife worked with the Prometheus delegation to build radio stations with a women’s community center. Over weirdly sweet sourdough bread and eggs, he argued fluently for net neutrality, solar powered Wi-Max wireless infrastructure in Sierra Leone, and the nefarious history of the founding of the FCC. Howard is multifaceted — on the surface, I might think he would not be at home at a power lunch or a media convergence space, but it’s his fluency and ability to cross-reference in many issues that makes him so valuable as a colleague, and just the kind of person that I hope many people want to meet in Memphis.

This weekend in Memphis, in the background of the essential and huge debates on stopping the consolidation of media ownership, will be a quiet and insistent conversation on the last frontiers of open spectrum in the United States, and how important it is for the grassroots and the policy shapers to come together to claim that territory for the American people. Presenting on over a dozen panels will be pioneers and architects of media justice and media accountability, looking for allies and backup for their incredibly successful work taking down the corporate media that marginalizes their communities.

If we approach this conference with a lot of hope and with open minds, we’ll have the chance to build relationships that bridge distances. Lots of different kinds of distances, like the geography between San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Nashville, and all the way to and beyond Washington DC. I also want to think about what sometimes seems like the insurmountable distances between organizing strategies, different pieces of this movement. Maybe if we treat everyone like experts — pirate radio operators working in Springfield, Illinois, and policy crafters from across the Atlantic — we’ll be able to prioritize and strategize better, together, to win in all the ways we want and need to win.