Carlsbad, NM While reading about the cyberattacks, front and center, as well as out of sight, in the terrible Russian invasion of Ukraine as I flew to El Paso, I noticed an interesting piece in a recent Economist entitled “Skywaves and Satellites: Technologies old and new may help keep Ukrainians in touch with the world.” Some people forget about the power of radio as they root for the next new thing, and indeed some of these new things have been amazing, but radio not only bridges the digital divide, but is something that can’t easily be shut down, whether by autocrats or drowned out by Fox News.
The Economists was applauding the importance of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the famous BBC and its World Service. The World Service has begun nightly news broadcasts into Ukraine and parts of Russia.
Radio is an early-20th-century technology. But the BBC hopes it can still be useful in the internet age because it is hard to stop. Shortwave signals bounce off the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles high in the atmosphere. The resulting “skywave” travels for thousands of kilometres, meaning broadcasters can sit safely beyond the reach of censors, secret policemen—and invading armies.
I saw that piece as a good omen, and I landed in El Paso, Texas, and made my way to New Mexico, first to Hope and Artesia, and now to Carlsbad. This is hardscrabble country. This is oil and ranch country, praying for water country, rooting for Trump country. It is also country where the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM) is now doing the on-the-ground work to bring noncommercial radio to this area. Recently, AM/FM working with two of our family of organizations, Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center, and Southern United Neighbors received news from the FCC that all seven of their applications had received construction permits, giving them a huge opportunity to take the word to where it is not being heard and build more “Voice of the People” stations to join our emerging network. Three of these licenses are in New Mexico, two in the southeastern section of the state and one near the Colorado border in Cimarron. The next step in putting these stations on the air is seeing how we can affordably find – or build – antennas to transmit these signals across this vast expanse. The two stations in the southeast are big boys, one at 50,000 watts and the other at 25,000 watts.
I landed in El Paso and drove to Alamogordo about an hour away between the giant Army base Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile center. There’s a low power station in Alamogordo that is on our distribution list now, but I missed the best time to visit them. I caught snow going over the Sacramento Mountains and then made my way across the windy high plains to Hope and Artesia.
Who cares about this area of the country? Who are these people? Are we crazy to think that getting the word out to them makes a difference to the community, to political life, to individuals and groups who need a way to have a voice? We don’t think so. You can’t make change without organizing people where they live. Radio helps us do that whether its in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, central Arkansas, the 7th and 9th ward of New Orleans, or, if we’re successful, southeastern New Mexico, the Colorado/New Mexico border, and beyond. It’s expensive to organize in rural areas, but radio is a great equalizer and cheaper per listener compared to almost anything else. In Arkansas, we spend about $2 per year per listener, $110,000 for our average weekly audience of 55,000, and, much of that is based on pledge drives, underwriting, and membership donations. Radio is an amazing organizing tool!
To borrow a phrase from Clint Smith and his great book about slavery in America and its ongoing legacy and impact, this is “how the word is passed…”