Getting a Low Power FM Radio License in New Orleans


on-air-sign-ccOttawa     Over the years with an army of volunteers from supporters to DJs to radio engineers with gentle spirits, hard heads, and generous souls, working with AM/FM, the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, we’ve put big radio stations on the air first in Tampa (WMNF), then revived and put one back on the air in Dallas (KNON, formerly KCHU), and finally in Little Rock with the 100,000 watt KABF at 88.3 FM broadcasting throughout a huge doughnut hole of almost all of Arkansas.  These stations have been big operations with big ambitions and loud voices, so why are we so excited when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent us an email announcing that AM/FM has won a license for a Low Power FM station at 90.3 on the dial in New Orleans at a baby 100 watts?

Well, on one hand it was a relief to have a resting point after a long journey.  When the FCC opened up the application process for frequencies several decades ago, AM/FM, working with ACORN and local communities, helped file almost one-hundred applications around the country to broaden access to the airwaves for low-and-moderate income families.  At the end of that process we emerged with a handful of situations with competing approvals where the FCC essentially said, “good luck if you can work it out.”  This meant time sharing agreements, which at best are kiss-your-cousin kind of situations that never really work well, are economically unsustainable, and wildly confuse the listeners, since invariably these are sharing arrangements with religious broadcasters.  It was also a case where whoever had the deepest pockets would win, and that was never our team, so the end result has been a drought of almost thirty years since we had the opportunity to put another “voice of the people” station on the air.

This time the FCC moved quickly and affirmatively to allow the awards to be made on the low power frequencies, and though they are small, they have one signal advantage, which is that they create the opportunity of being truly “community” radio stations.  A 100-watt signal is bigger than you might imagine, especially in a pancake flat area like New Orleans where we are celebrating being a new licensee.  Our engineering indicates that we will be able to broadcast throughout the entire city limits with a strong signal, and likely the metro area, heard by perhaps one-million people or more.  With a 100,000 watt station your community is Little Rock or Dallas but it is also hundreds of neighborhoods, small towns, and other cities as different as Fort Worth and Pine Bluff.  It’s a good message, but a diverse one that speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of “block” programming on noncommercial radio where there’s something for everyone, but you need to find the time slot where you can be happy.  With low power we can have tremendous diversity, access, and many voices, but they can all have a New Orleans accent, vibe and sensibility speaking the language of small and larger communities within the city.

And, then there is just the fact that having a studio and broadcast ability right at hand provides a huge resource.  We have been dying to try some experiments in broadcasting through live streaming on the internet in the midnight hours with the languages and content of where ACORN International organizes in Hindi, Spanish, French, and whatever.  Trying to triangulate the overnight signal from foreign lands to Little Rock to wheel it around is hard.  Walking down the hall is easier.  Add all this to the fact that the studio will be in the mezzanine of our building in New Orleans on St. Claude and Elysian Fields at the intersection of Marigny, the Bywater, St. Roch, Treme, and the French Quarter, and that April 1stwe open the second location of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse on St. Claude, so that we can fuel this operation 24/7, 365 days a year into a community and global hotspot of fair trade, great music, and intense commentary, and it all just seems not only important, but just plain fun and exciting to be part of it.

The license is only the key that opens this door, so there’s time and hard work, as we well know, in taking it from here to cars, phones, and homes, but the first step is a giant one!