Way back in February, I wrote about new FCC rules allowing nonprofits and educational institutions to run LPFM stations in urban areas, each one broadcasting for a couple of miles at about the wattage of an ordinary lightbulb. The airwaves in Seattle should have room for about eight new stations, with more outside the city, and a diverse group of applicants have been preparing all year to fill those spots.
At a kickoff event this afternoon, applicants and supporters got together to celebrate and to explain what, exactly, they want to do with this new media. The proposals are exciting. OneAmerica, the immigrant advocacy organization, wants to run a station out of SeaTac with programming in English, Spanish, and Somali. Spokeswoman Rahwa Habte says not only would the community benefit from multilingual arts, culture, and news, and the station could be a training ground for new media makers, but also school districts are excited at the idea of being able to get info out to parents in the appropriate language.
Hollow Earth Radio, which broadcasts online, wants to go terrestrial so you can find 'em on the dial. "We've been running around knocking on doors and saying, "Hey, can we put a radio antenna on your roof?'" says Hollow Earth DJ and board member Forrest Baum. "And they say, 'What are you talking about?'" Once Hollow Earth explains what LPFM is, Baum says people often already have ideas for how to use it. "They say, 'Oh, yeah, we've been wanting to start a music program.' Or 'We have kids who are interested in doing that.'"
Another group wants to operate out of Ballard and hopes to involve the public high school. Ballard High School senior Morgan Hudson points out how hard it is for high-school students or recent grads to find jobs these days; community radio could offer both a learning experience and, potentially, job experience. El Centro De La Raza is looking into applying for a station, as is Pike Place Market. Stations could share their programming and connect different parts of the city.
And there's a lot of support to be had in Seattle—not just community support, but institutional support. Representatives from the city's Office of Information Technology, Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and Office of Arts & Culture were there to network, as was 4Culture, all telling applicants to please-please-please come ask for help any time. The event itself was hosted by Brown Paper Tickets, which has been funding a full-time staffer, Sabrina Roach, to champion public media and the possibilities of LPFM.
Today's celebration was supposed to be for the first day of the FCC's application window for these stations, which will likely be the one and only time anyone can apply, since the radio dial is damn near full. But the government shutdown stymied those plans, and like anyone else who has to interact with the federal government these days, they're gonna have to sit on their hands for a little while.
Once the FCC opens back up, everyone will have about a six-month wait to hear if their application's accepted, then an 18-month timeframe to build their stations. And Roach says that's when things will get really interesting. "Deadlines," like the ones live radio forces on you, "make creative people productive," she laughs. And there's a benefit to starting small, too: "There are some impressive things that happen when you think that no one is listening, and you just go for it."