Five Ways Low Power FM Will Power Up Public Radio

ds106-world-radio-dayWorld Radio Day is this Thursday, February 13. It’s the perfect time to talk about how Low Power FM Radio could change the public and community radio landscape in the United States. For the past three years, I’ve been putting a shoulder into low power FM (LPFM) infrastructure development. I have helped to get the word out about the opportunity nationally, assisted nonprofits with their applications, fostered relationships between applicants and identified resources to help them build. I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for community radio, and my little public radio nerd heart is gleeful about the potential. Maybe some of the ideas are a stretch. I’m certainly showing my enthusiastic idealist colors, but World Radio Day encourages expansive thinking and big ideas. One thing’s for sure, LPFM will have an impact.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) created World Radio Day in 2011 to annually prompt us to think about the transformative power of radio. This year their focus is gender equality. People from around the world are contributing audio and video clips in which they further the discussion about gender in radio and other ongoing structural issues like race and class.

We know we have structural issues in public media. We talk about them at our conferences and participate in trainings at our stations, but the conversation doesn’t get much past working on individual racism and an introduction to white privilege. These inequities require multipronged solutions. One small way to chip away at them is the current LPFM radio infrastructure build out.

Some numbers that illustrate how we’re doing:

Women hold less than 7% of all TV and radio station licenses.
People of color hold just over 7% of radio licenses and 3% of TV licenses.
[source: Free Press]

92.7% of journalists at commercial radio stations are white.
81.5% of journalists at non-commercial radio stations are white.
91.3% of radio news directors (commercial & non) are white.
67.3% of the work force in local radio news are male.
[source: Radio Television Digital News Association 2012 survey]

For reference, the US population is 51% female and 49% male / 72.4% white and 27.6% people of color [source: US 2010 census]
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Mid-Week Beat: Is Radio Still Relevant in the Digital Age?

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.
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