Low Power Radio is an Organizing Opportunity for Unions and Community Groups

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Little Rock    The radio spectrum is part of the public domain regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The spectrum is scarce so multiple interests have to be served, especially those of the public, though the history and tradition of the Commission leans heavily towards the commercial.  The growth of noncommercial and community radio stations over the last generation has been a rough road at every turn first with commercial broadcasters and then often with an unholy alliance of NPR and the commercial guys, all of which has thwarted the expansion into low power radio for years in stops and starts.  Finally the last hurdles were scaled once it turned out there was limited to non-existence interference with existing frequencies and Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, originally introduced in 2005 by John McCain and others, now was signed by President Obama.  To round out the political good will, former President Bill Clinton has called low power (LPFM) as a “voice to the voiceless.”

As opposed to full power stations which ACORN and other believers in community radio pursued aggressively in the past, low power at 10 to 100 watts is not pushed off at a distance from existing stations now, and looking at the lists prepared by Prometheus Radio, a huge proponent of LPFM, their work indicates that there may be viable frequencies even in large, top market cities, which has been unheard of for a generation.  This is all very important because in mid-October the FCC is taking applications making now the time to get organized, create community alliances, find good radio engineers, and marshal the resources to compete.  In a long call last week with several members of the Prometheus Radio staff based in Pennsylvania, their emphasis right now is on outreach to make sure not simply that there are plenty of applications but that the right case is made for community organizations and unions to take this seriously.

Given our experience with community radio, and right now I’m in Little Rock, helping reorganize KABF, the 100,000 watt “voice of the people” in Arkansas on the air for the last almost 29 years,  all of this is right at hand and fresh on my mind, these are opportunities that pose challenges, but are worth the effort since they create permanent, long term capacity.   Low power gives our organizations the ability to target such capacity specifically to the constituency that we are trying to organize.  Think UAW trying to organize autoworkers in Northern Mississippi now or along the interstate cutting through Alabama towards Atlanta.  Think of community organizations with a specific base in class or ethnicity who want to be able to communicate to their people fully, regularly, and relatively inexpensively.  These are not internet people, no matter how much we wish they might be, but they are people that radio can efficiently reach, especially targeted low power radio with the right range and robustness.

This is an exciting opportunity, and I’m evangelizing wherever I can these days to see what partnerships we can create to make this long deferred dream a reality.