radio is the cheapest most accessible form of mass media there is
infinitely more accessible than the internet for the overwhelming majority
of humanity, However, the power of FM broadcasting as a means for democratic
communication, particularly Microradio (a.k.a. Low Power FM) , is not
worth much if a station does not have a community tuning in and getting
involved. What follows are my suggestions for building a neighborhood
radio station based on my experiences in station collectives and what
I've learned from visiting other stations around the country. There is
not a lot of legal talk in this essay, because my position on the "legality"
of Microradio is: fuck the FCC, these are the people's airwaves and we
will use them as we see fit. I hope you agree.
How's it Gonna
What you have to determine
when you first plan a neighborhood radio station are the following:
- Who's your community?:
I mean that quite literally. Answer these questions for yourself: Who
lives in your neighborhood? Who would be interested in being involved
in a neighborhood station? Who would be reliable? And conversely: Who
would be against a Microradio station (or just doing something "illegal")?
Who would be a pain in the ass?
- Bring in the
community at the beginning: It's not a neighborhood radio station
if the neighborhood isn't involved. After you have made an effort to
find the answers to the questions about your neighborhood, make a strategy
based on that information, start approaching people, and form a station
want to start with a small number of reliable and trustworthy people
to set up the station, develop a plan for bringing in more of the community
to do programming, and then to determine...
- What level of
risk is your station willing to take and how public is your station
prepared to be?:
Two good examples of stations that answered those questions that suited
the needs of their community would be, KIND Radio in San Marcos, TX.
And Radio Clandestin@ in East Los Angeles hopefully you can use
these two stations as models for determining how your station will interact
with your community.
The folks at KIND Radio had two goals in founding their station: 1) make
an open challenge to the FCC by defiantly operating their station as publicly
as possible, with the aim of taking the FCC all the way to the Supreme
Court if they came down on them, and 2) be a true service to the community
by providing 100% local 24/7 programming.
What KIND did to engage
the community was distribute a flyer all over town advertising the new
station and inviting people in the community to sign up for open time
slots they had a full programming schedule in no time flat. KIND
quickly became, in my opinion, one of the best radio stations in the country
(licensed or unlicensed), with devoted collective of programmers and a
devoted community that was ready to come to the station's defense at a
KIND broadcasted successfully
for several years, but sadly the FCC has managed to shut it down, at least
temporarily, as their legal strategy did not work out the way they had
hoped. But they made a truly valiant effort that is worthy of close study.
in East LA, took an entirely different route to establishing a station.
Originally, Radio Clandestin@ (RC) was established by a small group of
young Latino radicals to be a fundraising tool for buying Microradio transmitters
for the Zapatistas in Chiapas, but it ended up becoming a very successful
station serving the Latino community in Los Angeles.
certainly lived up to its name. Initially, it was composed of a fairly
secretive core collective that only brought new people in whom other collective
members could vouch for, however, they had good reasons for operating
this way. Being people of color in an oppressed community, they reasoned
that if the authorities were to come to shut down the station their treatment
would likely be more harsh than if they were a group of white broadcasters
-- and not to mention that several members of the collective could be
put in danger of being deported if they had a run in with the authorities.
In spite of this method
of operation, RC gradually came to play a useful role in their neighborhood
and performed a great service to the Zapatista support network operating
in LA. To my knowledge, RC is still serving it's community and going strong.
Your station collective
will have to determine for itself which end of the spectrum between these
two stations that your station will lean towards regarding how it operates.
- How long are you
going to broadcast each day?: Work out a coherent schedule based on
the programming hours you do have filled. How long you will broadcast
each day will change over time, of course, as you gain new programmers,
but whether you initially broadcast 4hrs a day or 12hrs a day, do it
consistently. Which brings me to...
- BE CONSISTENT!:
Establish a reliable schedule for the sake of your listeners. Let me
put that another way: If you want to have listeners AT ALL they need
to know that your station will be on the air from time A to time B each
day. If you tell people that you will be on the air from noon to midnight,
Monday thru Friday, then the listener should NEVER HEAR DEAD AIR during
those times of the day. If you can't do that then don't bother starting
a station because no one but your friends will ever listen to it.
- Breaking down responsibilities:
When the station is small, your collective can just delegate various
responsibilities to individual volunteers, but when the station reaches
certain size, it will be a good idea to branch off responsibilities
into committees (i.e. The finance and fundraising committee, the programming
committee, the technical committee, the outreach committee, etc.).
- Paying the bills:
A Microradio station is pretty damn cheap in itself. The only crucial
expenses you'll likely have to worry about are rent (if you rent the
space your station resides at) and putting money aside for your station's
legal fund. Most successful stations can get by pretty well by having
their collective members pay monthly dues (like $5 to $10 per month
it would also be a good idea to implement a sliding scale for
As for buying
new equipment, that's not a regular expense. You can throw fundraisers
to raise equipment money and even openly pitch for donations on the
air (though, I wouldn't try pitching until your station is established
in the community). You can also ask for direct donations of the actual
items your station needs. Don't underestimate the community, if they
love you, they'll come through for you in ways you'll never expect.
I think that covers
the essentials for establishing a successful and effective neighborhood
radio station. Fight the power and have fun.