In a major victory for the community radio movement after a 15-year campaign, the Federal Communications Commission has announced it will soon begin accepting applications for hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations in October. This means nonprofits, labor unions and community groups have a one-time-only chance this year to own a bit of the broadcast airwaves. It is being heralded as "the largest expansion of community radio in United States history." We’re joined by two guests: Jeff Rousset, the national organizer of the Prometheus Radio Project, which has led the campaign to challenge corporate control of the media and open up this space on the dial, and Ramón Ramírez, the president of PCUN, the largest Latino organization in Oregon. In 2006, Prometheus Radio Project helped PCUN establish the low-power FM station "Movement Radio," which has helped inform farmworkers about labor rights, as well as the larger Latino community about immigration reform efforts, health issues and other community-related topics. The FCC’s short application window for new stations will run from October 15 to October 29. "This is a one-shot opportunity," Rousset says. "The work that we do over the next four months will really help shape the course of this country’s media landscape for the next 40 years."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a major victory in the fight for media democratization. In response to a 15-year campaign, the Federal Communications Commission has opened the application process for thousands of new noncommercial FM radio licenses, including licenses in urban areas. This means nonprofits, labor unions and community groups have a one-time-only chance this year to own a bit of the broadcast airwaves. It’s being heralded as, quote, "the largest expansion of community radio in United States history." The FCC’s application window will run from October 15th to October 29th.
AMY GOODMAN: The Philadelphia-based nonprofit Prometheus Radio Project has led the 15-year campaign to challenge corporate control of the media and open up this space on the dial. In this video, the group explains the power of community media. This clip features Cam Tu Nguyen, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association; then Ash-Lee Henderson of Concerned Citizens for Justice; and Emery Wright of Project South.
CAM TU NGUYEN: When we don’t have the media and—or the media is controlled by another group that doesn’t have our side of the story, our perspective, our community interest, and other people hear from them, and we have nothing to combat that. We have—we don’t have our own radio station, our own newspaper, to put our truth out there, our version, our perspective, out there. Then, in a way, they control the battle.
ASH-LEE HENDERSON: We have to fight for those spaces. Like, we—we, as social justice movement builders, need to really own spaces and be able to control narratives, because we believe that, like, the people know how to tell their own stories, and they know the solutions to their own problems.
EMERY WRIGHT: How do we get accurate information to our folks? You know, how do we have authentic conversations across borders and boundaries that divide us?
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined now by Jeff Rousset, national organizer of the Prometheus Radio Project, and Ramón Ramírez. He’s the president of PCUN, the largest Latino organization in Oregon. In 2006, Prometheus Radio Project helped the organization establish a low-power FM station called "Movement Radio," with the slogan "The Voice of the People." They’ve used the station to inform farmworkers about labor rights, as well as the larger Latino community about immigration reform efforts, health issues and other community-related topics.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! So, Jeff, let’s start off with what this window is in October.
JEFF ROUSSET: Sure. Thank you, Amy.
This is a historic opportunity for communities all over the country to have a voice over their airwaves. The airwaves are supposed to belong to the public. And now this is a chance for groups to actually own and control their own media outlets all over the country. As you said, this is the culmination of a 15-year organizing campaign. And so, what the FCC did this week is they launched the application process for nonprofit organizations, labor unions, schools, Native American tribes and community groups to actually apply for a slice of the airwaves in their communities locally. It’s the biggest chance in decades for communities of color, women, workers, immigrants, environmentalists, veterans, other communities who have been systematically ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media to own and control their own media outlets across the country and use it to share local news and to provide a platform for local artists on the air.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, what’s made it possible now to do this? Obviously—is it changes in terms of digital broadcasting that makes it more possible to avoid interference? Or what precisely has made this happen now?
JEFF ROUSSET: So, there’s always been this opportunity, but big broadcasters fought for more than a decade to keep radio in the hands of a few big corporations. However, a grassroots movement over the last 15 years has been fighting to open up this space on the dial. So, you know, when you’re flipping through the radio dial between commercials and you hear static, we’re actually squeezing small, local, people-powered radio stations into the radio dial in those places, so we’re going to turn that static into sound and use that to amplify people’s voices all over the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Ramón Ramírez, what does this mean for you?
RAMÓN RAMÍREZ: This is an important victory. We were part of the struggle to convince our Congress to open up the airwaves to community organizations and labor unions and immigrant rights groups, so that groups can use it as an organizing tool. And Radio Movimiento: La Voz del Pueblo, which is the—our radio station that was developed with the help of the Prometheus Radio Project, we’ve been able to use it as an organizing tool, not only to organize farmworkers—we are the farmworker union of Oregon—but also to provide information and give people that never had a voice—for example, we’re broadcasting in four indigenous languages from Mexico and Central America, and we’re giving those folks a voice in the community that they never had.
So, the idea that we could expand this radio or this medium to hundreds of community organizations and unions and immigrant rights groups throughout the country is just a wonderful victory for us. And we want to be part of that. We want to share our experiences and our victories and also our successes to help other groups, because I’ll tell you that having your own—controlling your own media outlet is awesome. It’s a powerful tool. It’s not only about putting information out and using it as an organizing tool, but it’s also about building leadership capacity in your community, because these folks learn how to program. They know how to put together—they research. They’re not only programmers, but they’re also getting their communities involved, and they’re providing information, valuable information, on a number of topics of that particular community. This is a really important victory.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeff, for people who are out there listening in the various cities and communities around the country, who have maybe never been involved with a radio station, how would they take advantage of this? What kind of assistance does Prometheus provide them? Because there’s actually financial considerations, application procedures, technical training you must have.
JEFF ROUSSET: Sure. So, most of the groups that we’re working with actually don’t have experience using radio, producing radio. That’s what we’re here for. We’re really here to help groups not only to navigate the FCC process, but also to develop the kinds of skills and trainings, and connect people and resources so that groups can actually get on the air and be successful and build these successful radio stations.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do they find if there’s a space on the dial in their city, where they are, in their community?
JEFF ROUSSET: Sure. So, we’re encouraging folks to go to our website, go to PrometheusRadio.org, and sign up with us if you’re interested. This is a one-shot opportunity. And the work that we do over the next four months will really help shape and determine the course of the media landscape in this country for the next 40 years. And we’ve got lots of tools developed. We built a site called RadioSpark.org, where you can actually put in your zip code and see what frequencies are available—100.3, 103.5. This is all up and down the FM dial.
AMY GOODMAN: How many frequencies are available across the country?
JEFF ROUSSET: More than a thousand. And for the first time ever, they’re available in most of the biggest cities in the country. So, in a place like Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, one of these stations will be able to reach over 100,000 local listeners, plus stream online. So it’s a very powerful tool. But this is a one-shot opportunity, so we want folks to get involved. And you can sign up with us if you want to start a station yourself, or if you want to support others to expand independent media. Of course, many of the low-power FM stations on the air today broadcast Democracy Now!, and this is a platform to keep producing local coverage, local news, and also to open up space for more outlets like Democracy Now!, for more Amys and Juans to pop up all over the country, get that kind of training and really transform the media. But it’s a one-time chance.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ramón, quickly, the impact that this has had on your organizing in Oregon?
RAMÓN RAMÍREZ: Well, we’ve been able to use it as a mobilizing tool. You know, Oregon just recently, for example, was one of those states that reinstated driver’s license for undocumented workers in the state of Oregon—major, major victory. How did we do that? Well, part of it, the radio had to do with it. We mobilized thousands of people, and we asked the people in our rallies who attended committee hearings, "How did you hear about this?" "Radio Movimiento, that’s how we—that’s how we got here." So, it’s a powerful tool. It’s benefited us. And we want to be able to share that with other community organizations, because prior to us having this radio, we didn’t know anything.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but we will certainly continue to follow this issue. Jeff Rousset, with Prometheus Radio Project, Ramón Ramírez, with PCUN, the largest Latino organization in Oregon.