Independent media activists are setting up a low-power radio station at the Houston Astrodome to provide critical information to hurricane Katrina evacuees. We speak with those working on launching the station and the challenges involved. [includes rush transcript]
Tens of thousands of internally displaced New Orleans residents have been living in the Houston Astrodome for the past few days. Most of them do not know what the future holds for them or even the latest news and updates on their situation. To combat this, relief volunteers and Independent Media organizers such as the Prometheus Radio Project have gotten permission from the Federal Communications Commission and the City of Houston to build a low-power, 30-watt radio station to provide critical information to people displaced in the area. They are waiting for final permission from officials at the Astrodome to go on the air and are looking to bring equipment–radios for all the potential listeners and batteries–to make it possible. Democracy Now! is helping to make possible the thousands of radios that people will need to get this communication.
- Tish Stringer, Indymedia activist and teacher at Rice University.
- Renee Feltz, News Director at Pacifica station KPFT-FM in Houston, Texas.
- Hannah Sassaman, Program Coordinator of the Prometheus Radio Project.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Houston, to speak with Tish Stringer, an Indy Media activist who teaches at Rice University and Renee Feltz, she’s news director at Pacifica radio station KPFT, spending a lot of time in the Astrodome getting the voices of people out to larger community. Thank you both for coming in to KPFT to speak with us.
TISH STRINGER: Thank you, Amy.
RENEE FELTZ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tish, why don’t you begin by talking about what this microradio project is all about.
TISH STRINGER: Well, when people first started to go into the Astrodome to speak with the people who had moved from the Superdome into the Astrodome and also from surrounding areas in New Orleans into the Astrodome, it was really clear that communication and information was a pressing need. Communication as a human right was an issue and people had no information about the location of their loved ones. There was a real difficulty getting information for basic things like when to eat, where to eat, how to get my child into school, how to look for jobs, transportation — really basic issues. There was no circulation of information going on in the early stages. Media activists in Houston talked about this and decided really radio would be the perfect medium to address this. We started talking to Prometheus Radio Project about how we should go about doing this as a microradio. We decided to apply to the FCC for legal local low power FM, which they granted really quickly, within a day, we had licenses from the FCC. We have had three licenses in our hands since Sunday. We have been ready to go. We have a whole radio station in boxes, ready to go. Since Sunday. Now it’s Wednesday, we’re hoping to get on the air at any moment to address this need for communication information from the public service officials from organizations in Houston that are offering aid to the people who are staying in the Astrodome, as well as taking the pressure off public service people and volunteers into the Astrodome, who are being asked for information constantly.
AMY GOODMAN: Renee Feltz, can you talk about reporting inside and about the setting up of radio, and what people are saying inside?
RENEE FELTZ: Inside, people are saying that they really want information about what’s going on back at home. They lack that information. That’s one thing that they’re searching for. They’re also, like Tish said, just seeking information about basic services, but as well, they want to learn how to sign up their kids for school. We have this week about 2,000 people signing up for classes. I think that they could also seek to use the radio station as a way to get out to loved ones where they are and perhaps the audio that’s broadcast over the microradio station here could be archived and used by other community radio stations in the country for people to hear the voice of their loved ones and know how to contact them.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go for a moment to just one of the many people that you’ve recorded, Renee, talking about his experience in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: They just left us there to die. They didn’t care about us at all. I’ve been out there seven days. Three days straight, I was helping get people out of houses and stuff. I had a boat, I was helping people, getting people out of their houses. Older people and children and stuff, you know? My boat sunk. Police rowed right pass me. There — it was like nothing happened. Ain’t nobody helping us. We were helping ourselves. They were talking about everybody looting. Hey, we had to do what we had to do to survive. Everybody was there. Just messed up. A lot of people lost their family members. Right now, I’m on my own. I don’t know where none of my family is at. I’m out here by myself. I don’t know where non of my family at.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the voices of people in the Houston Astrodome. There are a lot of people, Tish, a lot of the media is talking about how happy people are to be in the Astrodome right now. Renee, your sense of that, and also the most recent move to say that some — I think it was what, 1,000 people, should leave to go to Galveston?
RENEE FELTZ: I think the original request was 2,000 people would go to Galveston, and what officials are trying to do here, they say, is lighten the load as people probably have heard, Governor Rick Perry, said that our large, very large state of Texas is apparently full to capacity and can take no more people. So, that’s what the argument also is for the Astrodome. They want to make people more comfortable. Yesterday, officials with the Red Cross, offered to people an opportunity after they had been these flood victims to go shack up on cruise ships for an estimated six months in the Galveston area, another area that is subject to hurricanes, of course, in the Gulf Coast region. And what happened there is that people essentially refused to go. They were unable to get to buses filled up to leave. And it was interesting, the wording they used. They said that the elderly, people that generally would need a large support system around them, but would also basically be unable to really refuse to go they were saying that the elderly had first priority to get on these cruise ships. Also, the buses that have been out there and available for people to take to other parts of the country, Denver, Utah, Michigan, have been largely leaving with just 12 people on these 55-seat buses.
AMY GOODMAN: Tish Stringer, what is the response of the officials at the Astrodome to setting up the microradio station?
TISH STRINGER: Well, unfortunately, Amy, I wish I could tell you really in detail about that, but basically we’re a being told we have a lot more pressing issues to worry about than this radio station. That’s basically it. We wait and wait outside this one official’s office, who is the person keeping this from happening, and we have talked to her every day and every day, she’s telling us to wait. The first day we talked to her, she said, before I can let you on the air, I need to know that you’re going to distribute radios. I need to know that you are going to distribute a specific kind of radio. She laid out what kind it would be. She said, I need you to have 10,000 radios before you can go on the air. In one say we got 10,000 radios. We have 10,000 radios now ready to distribute in the Astrodome. We are waiting on this one low-level bureaucrat. I feel like it’s an example as we saw the immediate need for food and water of feel of New Orleans. The food and water was there and bureaucracy dragged its feet. And now the immediate need for information and communication, we are ready to go. We have been ready to go with licenses since Sunday. And again, government as we see it structured here is failing. We are trying to help ourselves. We are trying to do the media, and we’re just waiting for bureaucracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Tish Stringer and Renee Feltz we’re joined by Hannah Sassman of the Prometheus Radio Project. Hannah, how does this microradio station if it does go on air, fit into the larger low power movement in this country, and what can be done in Houston to actually make this happen?
HANNAH SASSMAN: Well, it’s important for people to realize that this station is part of a movement of communities determining themselves, that they need media they’re making locally that serve them. These resources are available as Tish and Renee have been saying and were just being stymied at the door as we have been stymied for building community radio stations all across the United States, low power stations, by Congress, who will not let them into the big cities where they can make the biggest difference. The roadblocks that are before us need to be overcome immediately, especially for the national community and the international community to hear these stories, to hear the news, that these people in the Astrodome and living in shelters all across the South need to tell. This morning, the Youth Media Council reported that only 22 out of the 1,300 stories on CNN and MSNBC and Fox have focused on the race and class issues that the people who are living in these new communities have been suffering. We have to immediately begin shifting the public’s view this is purely a national disaster, and people listening to the program right now can help by making a donation to the Houston Indy Media Radio Project at prometheusradio.org. You can also fight to expand low power FM to make sure that the next time we’re suffering nationally and locally in these situations, we have our own radio stations that we can use to help to help each other in crisis like these.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all very much for being with us. Hannah Sassman of the Prometheus Radio Project speaking to us from Philladelpia. Renee Feltz and Tish Stringer speaking to us from the studios of a community radio station of Pacifica Radio KPFT in Houston. Tish Stringer a grass roots indy media activist, teaches at Rice University. Renee Feltz, news director at KPFT.