Sanjay Jolly is the policy director for the Prometheus Radio Project.
Tridish of Prometheus, far left, working during a barn-raising in
Peten, Guatemala, in 2004.
October, just a few days away, the FCC will open a filing window for
non-commercial, low-power FM stations that could result in an
unprecedented expansion of community radio. Since LPFM reemerged more
than a decade ago, some 800 low-power FM stations have sprung up
across the country, and that number could double or triple over the
next few years.
is good for radio. The opportunities that it
presents, especially now that restrictions keeping LPFM out of large
and medium cities have been lifted, should inspire radio
professionals and enthusiasts to actively support its expansion.
1996, consolidation has transformed the radio industry. Commercial
conglomerates have replaced local programming with a few formats that
are identical from New York to Wichita. While current radio formats
have their strengths, the sense of local identity and culture has
largely been lost.
returns hyper-local radio to the airwaves. In a rebuke to the
overwhelming effect of consolidation in FM, LPFM stations are
licensed only to local non-profit organizations, and each group may
apply for only one license. With a small transmitting area and
relatively low barriers to startup, LPFM is a way to return the power
of radio back to ordinary people. It is radio by the community and
for the community.
KOCZ(LP) in the Louisiana city of Opelousas.
is home to Zydeco music, a Cajun-Creole tradition beloved in
southwest Louisiana for centuries. Despite being well-loved and
central to Opelousas’s identity, Zydeco was absent from the city’s
airwaves for years. Then, in 2003, a local group started KOCZ(LP),
playing Zydeco along with local news, jazz, R&B and Sunday
years later, the other stations in Opelousas haven taken a cue from
KOCZ, and the region’s musical heritage is kept alive through
low cost and relatively simple technical requirements mean that LPFM
brings radio to people who could otherwise never get involved,
including churches, youth, local governments, civic organizations,
arts and culture advocates, and others. And by lowering financial
barriers and establishing ownership limits, LPFM encourages the
participation of women and people of color, both of whom have been
historically shut out of media ownership.
meet the needs of rapidly changing populations, LPFM stations often
offer programming in Spanish and other languages not served by other
local stations. Bringing new voices on the air is not just good for
communities, it’s good for radio and its relevance as a medium.
stations may also bring new talent to the radio industry in general.
As many stations are staffed primarily by volunteers, LPFM stations
serve as training grounds for aspiring deejays, producers and
engineers, laying a valuable groundwork for the future of radio
LPFM expansion makes efficient and effective use of the remaining FM
spectrum. Across the country, LPFM will serve communities in the
spaces on the dial where full-power stations will not fit. Concerns
over LPFM interference on the third adjacent frequency have long ago
been debunked, and on the second adjacent frequency, LPFM stations
can now operate just as translators do, with the same robust
interference protections and mitigation for full-power stations.
communities with no room for new full-power radio, LPFM is the best
use of the FM band.
IN A LIFETIME
15 years, the Prometheus Radio Project has worked to advance the
cause of community radio. We helped push the FCC to create a new
low-power service, worked with dozens of organizations to start
stations and advocated for fair LPFM regulations.
led the fight to win passage of the Local Community Radio Act, which
directed the FCC to expand LPFM licensing and eliminated restrictions
that kept LPFM off the air in major cities. Over the course of a
decade, we built a grassroots network of LPFM advocates who lobbied
Congress for community media access. And in 2011, the bill was signed
into law by President Obama.
on the cusp of October’s LPFM filing window, Prometheus is helping
local community organizations to take advantage of this
once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are promoting public awareness
through press and outreach, and we are directly supporting LPFM
hopefuls to apply for station licenses. Prometheus offers free online
training and educational materials; the open source channel
allocations software RFree; and a phone help desk for LFPM
engineers, producers and other professionals have an important role
to play in the success of LPFM. They can encourage organizations to
apply, volunteer to support local applicants or apply for licenses
directly. Many of those applying for stations are local groups with
great things to offer their communities, yet are new to radio. The
expertise of a local volunteer can go a long way in helping a new
radio project to get off the ground.
you are considering how you can support LPFM, a good place to start
is Radio Spark (www.radiospark.org),
an online community for groups applying for LPFM licenses and for
those who want to help them. By connecting allies, Radio Spark allows
experts and novices alike to ask questions, share resources, recruit
volunteers and build networks.
you’re an engineer or other professional offering services to new
LPFM stations, you can list yourself as a resource. You can also
visit Prometheus’s website (www.prometheusradio.org),
where you can find training, handouts and more background on LPFM.
the current radio landscape serves audiences in many important ways,
LPFM will make radio better. It will promote local production, create
creative new programming and expand the role of radio in people’s
lives. But for LPFM to achieve its full promise, people like you must
actively support and participate in its success. Be a part of radio’s
Founded in 1998, Prometheus builds, supports and advocates for
low-power radio stations. It was founded in 1998. Learn more at www.prometheusradio.org.
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