Mid-Week Beat: Is Radio Still Relevant in the Digital Age?

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large_war-of-the-worldsThis week on the Mid-Week Beat we stray away from our usual format of featuring bands and shows to focus on radio, and more specifically Low Power FM. Radio is an important medium that is just as relevant and useful to independent musicians as it is to community groups and non-profits, even in the age of the Internet. Today, on World Radio Day, we feel it’s important to talk about some exciting developments for independent, community-based radio and to encourage all of you to support the independent radio stations in your own community. Happy World Radio Day everyone!

Every musician wants to connect with their audiences and, in the past, radio airplay has been the key to achieving that. I know some of you can remember the excitement of when you heard your favorite song come on the radio or, if your a musician, the first time you heard your own music on the radio. Younger musicians like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, have made it clear that the walls of the old school music industry are crumbling in favor of D.I.Y. online solutions, but does that mean that the power of radio has diminished?

No one who listened to Orson Welles’ famous radio play, “War of the Worlds” would have questioned the importance of radio. The realistic “theatre of the mind” made people of that day pack their bags, call the police and go into basic panic mode, because what you create in your mind can be even more powerful than anything that you see or read. Surely, radio as a medium would remain important to artists who’s work can primarily be appreciated and shared through the sense of sound… at least, as long as audiences were still tuning in.

But in the digital age, has radio outlived its relevance?

According to the United Nations, radio remains the medium that reaches the widest audience worldwide, and radio is able to connect better with communities regardless of economics or education levels. Radio can reach listeners who are engaged in other activities and tell stories in a way that resonates in a different way than other forms of media are able to. This is just as true in the world’s largest cities as it is in places without a digital communications infrastructure.

As a result, the United Nations, from it’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has declared today, February 13, World Radio Day. The declaration is a means to celebrate radio as a medium; to improve international cooperation between broadcasters; and to encourage major networks and community radio alike to promote access to information and freedom of expression over the airwaves. The date was chosen because it was the first day that United Nations Radio went on the air in 1946.

Brown Paper Tickets will produce Seattle’s only official celebration of World Radio Day, by bringing a spotlight to three different community groups who are applying for one of the new low-power FM (LPFM) radio station licenses that the FCC will be awarding for the first time in densely populated urban areas of the United States. The event is a free community luncheon and cake-cutting that will celebrate World Radio Day, followed by short, five-minute presentations from each of the three community organizations who will soon add their voices to the Seattle radio airwaves. RSVP for the Seattle World Radio Day celebration, and find out more about the event here.

Many people may be asking the question, “Why LPFM radio, when we have the Internet?”  Here are some responses to that question:

– The most popular reason seems to be the hunger for local content that is not being fulfilled by the current business model of commercially driven news organizations. The Internet is great for a lot of information, but a community radio station connects people to the place they live. LPFM could mean more coverage about job opportunities, school board meetings, high school football games, health, education, local music and literacy campaigns. LPFM could be critical for defining communities, a duty ignored by the syndicated programming from the mega-chains. Neighborhood blogs may need to re-think their business models, become nonprofit and join together with LPFM to serve their neighborhoods better as sort of a “community media hub,” in order to stay afloat. This can also make them stronger through community participation and make them eligible to qualify for public funding. The Internet has connected us to each other, but disconnected us from local news, insomuch as it has affected the business model of news organizations who can no longer afford to cover hyper-local news. There is a need for both neighborhood blogs AND LPFM.

– Emergency services – When there is an earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster, LPFM can help to galvanize, organize and prepare communities with emergency communications.

– Righting a social injustice of the imbalance of power created by the nations media outlets not being owned by minorities and women.

– Quality of content supported – An increase in the number of community stations could allow more in-depth discussions rather than the sound bites on most commercial radio.

– Radio is immediate and even more accessible than mobile applications, in that it’s cheaper to access. Access depends less on economic or education limitations, and listening can be done while doing other activities, like working. The Internet really can’t (or shouldn’t) be utilized while driving or doing other activities. More than 90% of the population over age 12 listens to the radio, according to the latest Pew Research Center data. By contrast, just two-thirds of American adults currently use a high-speed Internet connection at home.

– Radio elicits a more emotional response than print. Radio moves people to action, rallies them, and makes them “feel” things.

Hollow Earth Radio is the venue for the Seattle World Radio Day celebration, and they have a great start in their application for a LPFM radio license, in that they already operate a community station in Seattle’s Central District. Because of prior FCC restrictions, their content has been limited to being available on the Internet only. They give voice to community issues, give exposure to local musicians and the local music scene, and even contribute to the local music scene by organizing it’s own local music events. The station provides airtime for in-studio interviews, new music and support of local music happenings for the underground D.I.Y. music/arts community of the Northwest. The program also airs live recordings of shows taking place in alternative spaces around the Northwest, produced by music documentation project, Off Tempo.

OneAmerica is applying for the LPFM license when the application window opens on October 15. They look forward to the opportunity to advance immigrant rights and issues, such as boosting immigrant voter participation, reforming public education to ensure equity and quality for all students, with a focus on improving the educational experiences of immigrant children, advocating for immigrant rights and more.

University of Washington Bothell‘s students will be applying for an LPFM license for a student-run station when the FCC application window opens in October.

Brown Paper Tickets is taking a leadership role in proliferating LPFM locally and creating a model that can be duplicated and shared to proliferate LPFM in every major US city, nationally. Our goal is to fill every available LPFM frequency in Seattle with a qualified applicant as a model for attaining the same goal, nationally. To achieve this, one of our full-time “Doers” with a background in public interest media is producing a series of free LPFM information sessions, is hosting an online LPFM toolkit to inspire and model a path to successful LPFM application and funding for community organizations across the nation, including links and information on public funding, access to free counsel on LPFM application, a fundraising tool, and a link to a recording of the first LPFM information session here.

Here is a video of the first LPFM Information Session, produced by Brown Paper Tickets. In it, you will see presentations about what LPFM can do for communities as well as announcements of a total pool of $9 million in public funding for projects in the arts, youth education, technology, etc., that LPFM applicants are eligible to compete for!


Why would Brown Paper Tickets care, take a leadership role and spend so many resources to proliferate LPFM?  That’s easy:

– An average of 70% of events in Seattle on Brown Paper Tickets benefit a non-profit organization. As social entrepreneurs with a 12-year relationship with Northwest non-profits, we feel a responsibility to do what is within our power to make sure they know that this once in a lifetime opportunity is open to them.

– Brown Paper Tickets commits 5% of all profits to building healthy communities, as a part of its Not-Just-For-Profit business model, and we believe that LPFM is an important and powerful tool in that mission.

It’s as simple as that. Being a Not-Just-For-Profit company makes “paying it forward” (with no expectation of any business in return) a part of the business plan. We think it’s the way of the future of sustainable business. Interested in finding out more? Why not ask about how our Doer Program can work to help you to grow your community?

Creating LPFM is democracy in action. Join us in growing healthy communities and claiming our rights as citizens to the public airwaves. Check out the LPFM Toolkit for inspiration and direction on how you can help.