The Local Community Radio Act was finally approved by the US Congress and signed by President Obama on January 2011. This policy is definitely transforming the US mediascape as hundreds of non-profit collectives and community groups are now entitled to a broadcasting license from the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.). As of today 959 community organizations have received licenses for low-power FM radio stations and 1400 have received construction permits. Prometheus Radio Project has led the struggle to push for these policy changes (see http://www.prometheusradio.org/Local_community_radio_act).
An excellent book by Christina Dunbar-Hester about Prometheus was just published by MIT Press.
Low Power to the People.
Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism
The United States ushered in a new era of small-scale broadcasting in 2000 when it began issuing low-power FM
(LPFM) licenses for noncommercial radio stations around the country. Over the next decade, several hundred of these newly created low-wattage stations took to the airwaves. In Low Power to the People, Christina Dunbar-Hester describes the practices
of an activist organization focused on LPFM during this era. Despite its origins as a pirate broadcasting collective, the group eventually shifted toward building and expanding regulatory access to new, licensed stations. These radio activists consciously
cast radio as an alternative to digital utopianism, promoting an understanding of electronic media that emphasizes the local community rather than a global audience of Internet users.
Dunbar-Hester focuses on how these radio activists impute emancipatory politics to radio technology by promoting
the idea that community radio broadcasting holds the potential to empower people at the local level. The group’s methods combine political advocacy with a rare commitment to hands-on technical work with radio hardware, although the activists’ hands-on, inclusive
ethos was hampered by persistent issues of race, class, and gender.
Dunbar-Hester’s study of activism around radio offers broader lessons about how political beliefs are expressed
through engagement with specific media technologies. It also offers insight into contemporary issues in media policy that is particularly timely as the FCC issues a new round of LPFM licenses.
About the Author
Christina Dunbar-Hester teaches in Journalism and Media Studies in the School of Communication and Information
at Rutgers University, where she is also affiliated faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies.