Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Media Arts Center Hosts “Radio Summer” Aug. 29

Event Brings Together Community to Create Progressive Radio


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

There are plenty of stations on the San Diego radio dial you can tune into for political commentary, but absolutely no diversity as to its content. All you’re going to get are the Right-wing Republican and Tea Party propagandists whose nationwide exposure has made the phrase “Right-wing talk radio” seem redundant. But thanks to a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implementing the Local Community Radio Act, passed in Congress and signed into law by President Obama in January, more and different political and cultural voices may be heard on America’s airwaves. Locally, the Media Arts Center of San Diego is hosting a “Radio Summer” event Monday, August 29, 6 to 8 p.m. at their North Park office, 2921 El Cajon Boulevard (near 30th Street), to work on getting up to four new low-power FM stations licensed in San Diego and encourage nonprofit organizations to apply.

“Radio Summer” is actually a nationwide campaign sponsored by the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based organization whose slogan is “Freeing the Airwaves from Corporate Control.” Prometheus lobbied for the Local Community Radio Act for years and finally got it through Congress, and now they’re scheduling this and similar meetings throughout the country to make sure community organizations actually take advantage of the Act. Low-power FM stations actually existed before, but they were restricted to rural areas. Now, urban activists and community organizers can apply for low-power signals as well.

“Today, we start the countdown on the return of local voices to the radio waves, as low-power radio stations will finally be given space to broadcast in large urban markets,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon G. Clyburn when the FCC issued its low-power regulations in July. “Already we see amazing rural stations run by farm workers, schools and churches in rural Florida, Oregon, and the Carolinas, and we’ve heard of interest from the Chicago public-school system, from workers in Baltimore, and from music groups in San Antonio. In New Orleans, local groups want to rebuild their city and connect with their neighbors, and in Miami, health educators in the Haitian community want another outlet to serve their city.”

“‘Radio Summer’ is about folks getting organized in communities where low-power frequencies are expected to open up next summer,” said Kelly Barnes, general manager of the Activist San Diego (ASD) Radio Project and former staff member with the progressive nonprofit station KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. “The FCC has signaled their intention to open up an application process that could take as long as two years, but by Prometheus’s best data, they believe that as many as four frequencies will be opening up in San Diego for applications next summer.”

The August 29 “Radio Summer” meeting in San Diego is being sponsored by the Media Arts Center, Prometheus, ASD, the World Beat Center, New Media Rights and Open Media City Heights. Some of these groups already have radio experience: the World Beat Center’s director, Makeda “Dread” Cheatom, hosted a local reggae show on a major commercial FM station for 25 years, and Open Media City Heights ran a continuous Internet radio stream off their Web site until just recently, when they reorganized as an audio blog. Both the World Beat Center and Media Arts Center are also experienced in audio and video production, and one of Media Arts Center’s purposes is to make production equipment available to nonprofessionals in the community to produce their own media.

ASD is in a peculiar position relative to “Radio Summer” in that they’ve actually got an FCC license — not for low-power but for a full-power station in the Descanso/Julian area. They’ve also got a ticking deadline clock; according to FCC regulations, they must actually start broadcasting at a high enough quality level within three years of when they got the license. The drop-dead deadline to get their station on the air, Barnes explained, is June 29, 2013. According to Barnes, one of the FCC’s rules is that a full-power license holder can’t also apply to run a low-power station — but they can advise and work in coalition with other groups that are eligible.

Barnes is expecting the August 29 meeting to feature presentations from all six sponsoring organizations — including Prometheus, from whom she’s hoping to bring in an electronic presentation from their Philadelphia headquarters. The Media Arts Center will focus on the trainings they offer community media-makers in how to use standard production software like Audacity, Garageband, Photoshop and, for video people, Final Cut Pro. Brian Meyers, who founded Open Media City Heights and now works with the Media Arts Center, will discuss how to get a live streaming station on the Internet as both an alternative medium and preparation for launching a broadcast station.

The New Media Rights presentation will be by attorney Art Neill, discussing what Barnes calls the “permission-based, royalty-free Creative Commons” approach to copyright many alternative media groups are pursuing so they can easily share content without running afoul of giant media corporations and their highly aggressive enforcement of traditional copyrights. “Their mission,” Barnes said of New Media Rights, “is to help groups understand and advocate for new media rights. Their nonprofit model is at our service.”

Barnes said her goal is to see the organizations who participate in “Radio Summer” and who actually apply for and get the low-power licenses to be “judicious stewards of the treasure gathered up for our projects, who will use it wisely.” Her vision of community radio is as “a watering hole where people come and trade skills, and become storytellers. … We’re working on our personal development as well as producing the radio stream.”

For more information on the August 29 “Radio Summer” event, please e-mail Kelly Barnes at or phone her at (619) 528-8383.