There is a bill currently floating around congress that might interest those of us who want to build strong communities and a stronger base for nationwide progressive change. I haven't heard much talk about it here, so I thought it was time to post. It is the Local Community Radio Act (HR 1147/S. 592), which currently has only 38 cosponsors in the House and 5 in the Senate, and could be fated to languish in the Commerce committee if we don't put pressure on our representatives.
A short history of Low Power FM (LPFM):
In response to the media consolidation of the 90s, The FCC introduced the LPFM service in 2000 to grant free radio licenses to non-profit community groups, limited to have a reach of 5-10 miles. In the short window for applications, about 3000 groups applied, and to date 800 have been approved. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) fought hard to keep LPFMs out of densely populated areas, charging that they would cause interference. Thus, all approved LPFMs today are in rural and suburban areas. The MITRE study conducted in 2003 determined that it was highly unlikely that LPFMs would interfere with major broadcast stations, even in highly saturated markets. The FCC then recommended that the restrictions keeping LPFMs out of cities be lifted by Congress. The NAB continues to argue that LPFMs cause interference and is currently suing the FCC in an effort to push LPFMs off the air.
Essentially, the Local Community Radio Act will carry out the recommendations of the FCC and open up urban areas for LPFM licenses by changing a couple technical limitations. Imagine if your city could have even just one low power station. It could be a place where diverse groups of people share stories, build community, and work together for positive change. All those mushy things that, in fact, any hard-nosed organizer will tell you is our only hope. In Nashville we're lucky enough to have one such station, Radio Free Nashville, which draws on the diverse talents of the region and gives grassroots leaders a voice. It has been a place where people of all walks of life have shared a common space and found common ground. It has partnered with youth programs to teach youth to be active knowledge-producers and take ownership of the airwaves. In the short time it's been on the air, it has become a vital community resource. There are too few LPFMs like this, and the passage of this act will give us the opportunity to do this in more communities across the States.
Though it has its perks, internet radio isn't going to cut it. Low power stations do more than get out important and accurate information, they are an impetus for building inclusive communities. Within three miles of my home there are African Americans, Somali-Americans, White Americans, Yuppie transplants, indigenous southerners, working class people, low-income people, middle-class people, small businesspeople, artists, bicyclists, environmentalists, transvestites, GLBTQs, pro-gun advocates, students, musicians, vigilant neighborhood watchers, community volunteers, and more. Not all of these people would have access to internet radio, but if all of them have the opportunity to speak and be heard through a Low power station, we'll be taking one more step in realizing common goals. It's no secret to the progressive community that those in power have historically manipulated differences in race, class, and culture to divide and conquer. We know that to sustain a movement we must take the time to build trust and understanding across those divides, in whatever we do. Expanding Low Power Radio is one opportunity to do this directly.
This isn't just a pie in the sky, the time is ripe to pass this bill:
- The NAB continues to try to delay the process by crying "interference" but their charges are groundless. They have yet to specifically mount an attack on the Local Community Radio Act, and in a press teleconference in February LPFM advocates sounded optimistic that NAB won't put up much of a fight. They indicated that LPFM is down on NAB's list of concerns today, and as radio is in a fight as a format some may feel that anything that brings people back to FM radio is good for radio.
- Chairman Waxman has publicly come out in support of the bill, and indicated that he will help push it through the Commerce committee.
- And personally, I think this could be a feather in the cap of the Obama administration. LPFMs aren't really a tangible threat to large broadcasters, and if he ever has the urge to give a nod to his youth working as an organizer and those who worked so hard to elect him, this would be a good, relatively noncontroversial way to do it.
To help, you can:
Sign the petition to Expand LPFM
Fill out the form to email your representative
IDEALLY!!: Directly call or write your representatives and ask them to cosponsor/support the Low Power Community Radio Act (even if they are a Republican!)
Some quotes that helped me realize the importance of cross-class/race/gender/generation/etc. alliance building:
"For the real radical, doing "his thing" is to do the social thing, for and with people. In a world where everything is so interrelated that one feels helpless to know where or how to grab hold and act, defeat sets in; for years there have been people who've found society too overwhelming and have withdrawn, concentrated on "doing their own thing."... Lacking communication I am in reality silent; throughout history silence has been regarded as assent -- in this case assent to the system. " Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
"Without friendship among all the different kinds of people who are unhappy with the current system... progressive organizing is impossible and progressive prinipals are empty. Social justice grows out of your social circle..." Billy Wimsatt, No More Prisons
"The truth that we progressives of all classes have avoided facing for the last century is that we need each other. To fundamentally transform our society to be a fairer and more sustainable one, the movement we build will have to include people of ever race, every age, every geographic area -- and every class." Besty Leondar-Wright, Class Matters
"... when people get to know one another as human beings instead of as symbols or statistics, a human relationship--carying with it a full constellation of human attitudes--will inevitably result... We know our friend suffers pain just as we do; in essence, our knowing him as a human being serves as a strong bond of identification... As [local leaders] get to know one another as human beings, prejudices are broken down and human attitudes are generated in this new relationship. These changes are reflected among their followers, so that the understanding or education begins to affect the attitudes of thousands of people." Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals
A thanks to the Prometheus Radio Project, the National Federation for Community Broadcasters, and Freepress, and thankless individuals out there for the work they continue to do to lobby for this legislation.