By Maren Tarro
— Thirteen years ago the Federal Communications Commission opened up the airwaves to small FM broadcasters, giving nonprofit groups a voice amid the megawatt cacophony of broadcast corporations.
Low-power FM stations—100 watts or less—were at first relegated to rural areas so as not to disrupt signals from full-power stations. They’re able to reach listeners within their community (generally within a 2- to 10-mile range) for reasonable start-up costs. The signing of the Local Community Radio Act in 2011 allowed LPFM to be expanded to more urban areas, but the window of opportunity is narrow and rare.
In October, the FCC will be accepting license applications for new stations, and local activist Autumn Chacon is touring the Southwest with Prometheus Radio Project to spread the word about LPFM. The Compass caught up with Chacon to chat about LPFM and Saturday’s workshop at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice.
How did you come to be involved with Prometheus and the campaign for community radio?
I myself have had a few encounters with the non-permitted micro-radio scene that had and has existed in Albuquerque for decades and later spent years as master control operator at Albuquerque’s public access TV station, the former channel 27. At channel 27, Executive Director Steve Ranieri encouraged me not only to take an internship offered to me by Prometheus but considered it staff development and provided me with a consciousness of national community media desires, needs, movements and realities. For that, I thank him.
Can you give some background on the campaign to open up the airwaves to community groups?
In the past the only way for communities to take low-power FM into their own hands and spread important issues over the airwaves was known as a pirate radio movement. Eventually a national campaign was developed by the Prometheus Radio Project, based out of Philadelphia, to provide a radio service for non-commercial community use without resorting to the “illegal” occupation of open airwaves. Rather, if these waves are too small for megawatt clear channel, the FCC decided it would be OK to give them away to community nonprofits, schools and churches. They’re for community purpose almost exclusively, for non-commercial use.
What issues/groups specific to New Mexico do you see as benefiting from LPFM access?
First, I see Indian communities on and off reservations as very important in this filing opportunity. Indian-managed groups applying on Indian nations will receive an automatic point on their application. Activist and artist groups alike would benefit from this opportunity the most, being that they are currently most under-represented in mainstream, and popular media and news.
How might environmental or social activists benefit from or use LPFM?
I see actually a lot of environmental groups being able to utilize LPFM stations because there’s a need for mobilization. And because LPFM is non-commercial, it is less likely to be swayed or compromised by any corporate interests.
In Albuquerque we’re surrounded by military labs and other industry, which can be harmful to the people who live here. LPFM is 100 watts or less ,which means it will cover an area roughly 2- to 5- miles. Its audience will be very close to where content is generated and more able to organize within a close range around close-range issues. Listeners can also be exposed to news info that is relevant in the immediate area. Also, almost anyone can be a DJ.
What resources are available to groups interested in applying for a license?
The Prometheus Radio Project and I are on tour funneling people to many online resources, many of which were developed by PRP itself. I myself have been a local liaison since pre-victory campaign days and offer myself as a local who has been through the process and has experiential knowledge of application and station management. I also co-run a non-commercial/educational (NCE) radio station in Gallup, N.M. for the past 5 years. I rely on PRP for support but have also learned to navigate FCC and regulatory jargon quite a bit.
What can attendees to Saturday’s presentation given by you and Prometheus expect to learn?
You will learn the many wonderful applications of community radio. You will learn who else in your community is planning on submitting an application. You will learn what ducks need to be in a row as you put your application together. You will learn who in your community will help and offer resources during your fabulous journey to becoming an LPFM station.
Anything else we should know?
There will soon be an awesome new community station on your dial. And it might be you.
Low-Power FM Workshop
With Autumn Chacon and the Prometheus Radio Project
Saturday, May 11, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice (202 Harvard SE)