Editor’s Note: This post comes from Danielle Chynoweth, Director of Planning at the Prometheus Radio Project, based in Philadelphia.
Ninety percent of Americans use radio at least once a week, making it the most common point of connection today. And thanks to the passage of the Local Community Radio Act, groups will soon have the opportunity to start community radio stations in cities and towns across the country—as early as next summer. This marks the largest expansion of community radio in U.S. history, and in many areas, will be the first such opportunity in more than 30 years.
Community radio brings new voices and perspectives to the media. It enriches diverse communities with local arts and culture, enables neighbors to share local news and events, and helps residents participate in decisions that impact their lives. For communities with low literacy rates or where English is not spoken as a first language, radio can also be the primary source of vital information. In recent years, community radio stations have been key players in addressing water pollution, preserving indigenous languages, and even saving lives in natural disasters and other emergencies.
Community radio is also easy to produce, free to consume, and stations cost as little as $10,000 to launch—putting this powerful organizing tool well within the reach of most community groups. That’s why the Prometheus Radio Project is leading a broad coalition of groups to get the word out and help groups apply for, build, and sustain new stations.
There is a tight timeline, however, for community groups to seize this historic opportunity. The application window—which could be as early as June 2012—may only be five days long and announced a few months in advance. If groups aren’t prepared, they may lose their chance to apply.
Here’s a simple checklist of what to do before you apply:
- Be registered as a non profit with the state or ally with a nonprofit.
- Find an open channel in your area. For rural and suburban areas preliminary research can be done at RecNet. Note: There will likely be greater urban availability once the rules are determined by the FCC.
- Identify and partner with other groups in your area – the FCC will likely give priority to groups that cooperate.
- Secure funding: The application and license are free, but some groups will need to do an engineering study (approx. $500-3000) for your application. If a group gets a license, you have 18 months to build, which can cost $10,000+.
The process will be competitive; it is important that these new radio licenses be awarded to groups that have the ability to organize and engage their communities for deep and lasting impact.
Danielle Chynoweth has 20 years of experience in community media and building grassroots social justice organizations. She co-founded the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center and led its purchase and conversion of the downtown post office building into a Community Media and Arts Center, home to Radio Free Urbana 104.5 LPFM. From 2001-2008, she served as a City Council Member and then as Mayor Pro Tem for Urbana, Illinois. During that time she served on the Telecommunications and Public Access TV commissions and instigated public wireless, broadband, and arts programs.