Sunday, December 21, 2014

Community Radio - for All of Us

We have a great opportunity that both political parties, the P.V.A., the Tea Party, Aggie Solidarity, churches, and soccer moms should all relish. It's called community radio, and might not exist if not for Pete Tridish (known widely as Petri Dish), who passed through Cruces recently.

I like him, 'cause he thinks outside the box.

The FCC used to insist on a wider space on the dial between huge stations, so their signals wouldn't interfere with each other.

Petri pointed out that there was plenty of space for much smaller stations – say, 100 watts – in between the 50,000-watt behemoths. The little guys could use their localized signal to do interesting local things, without harming the big guys' signals

He convinced the FCC, and in 1998 the FCC enacted a rule to open things up. (This was after he'd spent a few years moving equipment from place to place and ducking FCC raids while running a “pirate” station.)

The National Association of Broadcasters (“NAB”) was horrified by the rule-making. The little guys might compete for local advertising dollars. NAB lobbyists chatted up senators and congresspeople. Thus in 2000 Congress enacted a law undoing the new FCC rule.

NAB claimed the small signals would interfere with the bigs. Congress insisted on a five-year engineering study. After two years the folks charged with doing the study had gotten a look at the facts, and announced that the NAB claim was so fatuous there was nothing to study. A 100-watt station could cause problems only in the immediate vicinity of its transmitter.

It took another few years to undo the 2000 law, but eventually the FCC started issuing licenses for small stations. (New Orleans, allowed no small stations under the 2000 law, could now have five.)
Throughout history, radio authorities have favored big broadcasters, with their deep pockets. Says Petri, “Drawing the largest audience made for the largest profits, so the assumption was, build the biggest station you can. And there's nothing wrong with that.”

The behemoths can do some things very well: national elections, wars, huge catastrophes, etc.
But they can't tell you much about your city council or the quality of local education. There's no incentive. “Stories about the Iraq War or the President pay a lot better than stories about the local city council.”

Petri is quick to articulate the irony: exactly the stuff we citizens can have the greatest impact on, such as local governments and improving local education, are exactly what we're most ignorant about, since national media ignore local issues; but we're flooded with information on issues we can do little about.

And what of accuracy? Big stations belong to big corporations. If GE, a huge defense contractor, owns a network, how confident are you that the network's news is accurate regarding a possible new war --- which, if it starts, will make GE a fortune?

Community Radio has time for local discussion, local performances, and slices of local life.
So what's this mean for us?

Within the year, Las Cruces could have a new radio station most of the City and some folks North and East of it should receive. It's licensed, and soon will have call letters. Supporters have started fund-raising. A small group has been meeting periodically to help with the early tasks.

The station hopes to be a resource for everyone, regardless of political views.

Look for notice of a meeting in January to invite input and ideas from any and all. Or consider donating a little money toward space and equipment and the all-important coffee-maker.

If you want to get on the group's mailing list, email at your convenience.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, 21 December.]
[I should probably have stressed that there's still a fair amount of work to get a new station on the air. In particular, we need to locate and lease studio space -- and the space has to work for radio.  Fund-raising for a year's operations is a definite task, although the amount needed is reasonable. 
And helping teach on-air talent something about the practicalities and non-substantive elements of running a radio show is important.
At the same time, a lot has already been done.]

[I got invited to the early meetings because I've worked some with radio and TV.  Nan Rubin ran 'em, being the most knowledgeable about starting and running a community radio station.  At the meetings were mostly people with significant radio experience.  People sounded interested in a successful community radio station representing a many facets of the community as feasible.  They weren't ideologues.  The license was procured technically by SWEC, because it was a convenient pre-existing non-profit group.]

[I think I'll stay involved in this thing.  I'm hoping that folks with something to say or discuss will use it, whether their subjects are political or not and, if political, whatever their political views may be.]

[I don't see the new station as competing with other available stations here because so much of it will be material those stations aren't interested in or don't have time for or suppose won't be profitable.  If we're lucky and work hard, the station will provide a unique service, covering Las Cruces and the County in a broader and deeper -- yet more spontaneous and lively -- way.  It'll offer a lot less prepared material from elsewhere and a lot more of what our friends and neighbors and local government are doing and thinking.  Along with music and features.  Definitely no Rush Limbaugh.]

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