Local & Gov’t Funders Stepping up for the Future of Radio
For the thousands of musicians, sound guys and gals, record labels and DJs now streaming into Austin for SXSW Music, the world has a chance of getting a little brighter (and louder) in a few years.
The expansion of non-commercial community radio known as Low-Power FM to a possible 5-15,000 new radio stations should create space for unheard voices across the U.S., reversing the consolidation that has most commercial radio stations recycling canned playlists.
Sabrina Roach of Brown Paper Tickets is on a mission to unite cities around a vision of getting new stations on the airwaves, and has so far found that local and public funding is definitely available for creating this infrastructure.
In Seattle, where BPT is based, several million in funding is available to possible applicants for community radio stations, from arts and culture funders but also government programs aimed at creating infrastructure and emergency-services backup communication.
This week, Sabrina went to South By Southwest to get cities imagining what new stations could be added…. especially in Austin, which could boast another 3-4 local stations in a couple of years.
“We’ve found more than $6 million in grants available in the Austin area for applicants for stations,” said Roach, hosting a panel at the Gibson Guitar Showroom in Austin on Tuesday. Panelists included BPT, Michael Bracy of the Future of Music Coalition, Garlin Gilchrist II of MoveOn, the Austin Creative Alliance, and more.
“Radio is a democratizer, and LPFM radio even more so. This is assembling democracy again,” says CEO Steve Butcher of Brown Paper Tickets, the international fair-trade ticketing company that sees LPFM as critical to the vibrancy of music.
Of all forms of media ownership, radio has some of the lowest barriers to entry – literally all that is required is a tower and a transmitter, to reach a radius of 3-5 miles in the case of LPFM. With media ownership opened to the 99 percent – small groups, language communities other than just English, block captains or granges or senior centers or whatever else – the radio can again become a way to literally listen to your neighbors.
The Low-Power FM radio licenses – free to the public – are slated to be given away starting this fall by the FCC. To file requires engineering work, organizing, and planning, and this is the fundraising challenge that Roach and other groups are helping budding station owners to realize. Roach feels it has wider implications for public media, arguing that “crowdfunding is the new pledge drive.”
Local, public, and community radio are all a part of a radio ecosystem that creates a space for the development of training, ideas, and talent, that are mostly streamed online as well and become a part of the international media environment.
Roach’s vision is that cities and towns will go online, check to see if there are open frequencies in their areas, and really make a civic goal of it. How could Austin – the live music capital of the world – not take advantage of this opportunity? Or New Orleans? Memphis? L.A.? Milwaukee?
Even the act of considering starting a station is transformative, say organizers. It gets people thinking about civic conversation, who’s a part of it, and who needs to be a part of it.
Disclosure: The author, Hannah Miller, is on the board of Common Frequency, another organization striving to enable the new generation of community radio licensees. Really just a labor of love, though.
We’d like to thank MyCharityLife for finding us in this early stage of the Philanthrogeek experience and believing in what we have to offer. We can’t wait to see how this partnership unfolds in Austin and in the months to come. And we’re so excited to meet our fellow philanthrogeeks and change makers at SXSW!