What would you do with your own radio show? Play your favorite local music? Spout political commentary?
Showcase community resources?
Savannahians could do all that and more if groups organize an effort to apply for one or more of 13 non–commercial, low–power radio signals coming available in the 31405 zip code later this year. There are also more signals available on the islands, Pooler and all over the country, thanks to the Prometheus Radio Project, a tiny non–profit based in Philadelphia. After 12 years of fighting for more non–commercial (i.e., non–corporate) stations, Prometheus celebrated victory in 2011, when President Obama signed a new version of the Local Community Radio Act that included a mandate to the Federal Communications Commission to allow more low–power stations on the FM dial.
But the real work has just begun.
While there are around 800 low–power FM (LPFM) stations up for grabs starting in the fall of 2013, the application process is long and complex. In its mission statement, Prometheus describes LPFM “as a tool for social justice organizing and a voice for community expression,” paving the way for organizations that promote economic and racial equality. By providing administrative and technical support through the application and beyond, it also hopes to galvanize those groups and thereby avoid the results of previous incarnations of the Local Community Radio Act, when many LPFM stations were granted to extreme right–wing and religious organizations.
To that end, the Prometheus Radio Project launched a “Reclaim the Airwaves” tour of the South this fall, hitting Chattanooga and Miami and most major cities in between. Prometheus national organizer Jeff Rousset stopped in Savannah in mid–December to address a group of 25 or so representatives from around the Savannah community, many from various non-profit organizations.
“This is an historic opportunity,” Rousset said. “Our aim is to build a nationwide media structure that supports a social justice movement.”
He added radio is free and that more people have access to radio than the internet. The problem is that almost every radio station is owned by a handful of companies.
“Media is a tool, and right now, corporations hold the hammer,” he said. “It’s time to tell our own stories that challenge the dominant discourse.”
While each LPFM station only broadcasts a five–mile or so radius, that small scope can wield much power. Rousset cited the example of migrant workers in Immokalee, FL, who were able to organize for better working conditions and higher wages via their community radio station. After Hurricane Katrina, a station in Hancock, MS was the sole source of information regarding emergency supplies. Other stations impact their neighborhoods by debating local issues and giving voice to its members.
What could a community station mean to Savannah? Tabitha Crawford–Roberts of Step Up Savannah expressed that a station could be used to inform the poor and underserved about where to find help. SCAD Radio production director Antonio Echevarria wanted to explore how the university’s station might expand from the internet to the FM dial.
Jabari Moketsi, who owns the Gullah Sentinel in Beaufort, SC, had already attended several Prometheus meetings and would like to see a community station to help preserve the Gullah heritage of the outer barrier islands. Journalist Tina A. Brown mused on how citizens could offer up their own news and engage on issues.
“We talk about our young people, but they don’t have much of a voice,” Brown said in the discussion. “I would build on that.”
And of course, it could feature Savannah’s simmering music scene. Musicians Dare Dukes and Anna Chandler were instrumental in bringing Rousset and the Reclaim the Airwaves tour to Savannah, inspired by the concept of a platform for local artists.
“So much is edged out of the mainstream media,” said Dukes, who is also a grantwriter and fundraiser for the Global Action Project. But it’s the combination of art and activism that drives his interest in community radio. “Frankly, it’s only important to me if it becomes a community space for folks of all kinds to share progressive ideas for change and hold government and other local power entities accountable.”
Rousset showed how some LPFMs have evolved into impressive community multimedia centers, incorporating classes and workshops, glorious examples of what could be. But it’s going to take organization, and it’s going to take money. Rousset explained that it takes around $10,000 to start up a station and around $3,000 to maintain. While the application and license are free, an engineering study that can cost upwards of $3,000 is required.
“I love the idea and Tony does as well,” said AWOL co–founder DaVena Jordan about the possibility of applying for an LPFM via the non–profit she runs with her husband. “But as I always say, you can want to do all the good in the world, but you need two nickels to rub together to do it.”
The Jordans weren’t able to make it to the meeting, but AWOL was batted around as a potential organization under which a LPFM could thrive. Applicants for the licenses must be a part of a non–profit, and events and fundraisers could garner the start–up funds easily, Rousset assured.
He also warned that non–profits that have been established for over two years are given precedent by the FCC, but pointed out that the station does not need to be run by the organization’s staff. He encouraged interested parties to partner with willing non–profits to build a volunteer stewardship — and to do it soon. Applications are due October 2013.
“This is the last chance to get on the air,” he said. “After these signals are taken, there will be no more room to get on the dial.”
For more info go to prometheusradio.org and/or contact Dare Dukes at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.