More than audio outlets, volunteer-based community radio stations are cultural institutions in their communities, reflecting the unique concerns and passions of the people who live there. With a system based on openness and collaboration, and diverse programming produced by volunteers and funded by listeners, these stations are cornerstones of participatory democracy, offering ordinary citizens the chance to exercise First Amendment rights in a mass medium and audiences the opportunity to directly support the programming that is of interest to them. Our mission statement goes to the heart of what we are about. A global coalition of community broadcasters, producers, volunteers, activists, and community members, we are unified in our commitment to the "community" in community radio, encouraging openness and accountability in governance, as well as programming.
What is Grassroots Radio?
Grassroots Radio is an offshoot of public radio, characterized by community access and volunteer involvement in every aspect of station operations. Reflecting the varied interests of their communities, grassroots radio stations have diverse formats, including eclectic music and information from a variety of sources.
Some of the programming comes via satellite or Internet from independent producers around the country. By "independent," we mean that the producers, for the most part, are not affiliated with any large distribution or production house, like National Public Radio (NPR) or Public Radio International (PRI), and that the programs are not underwritten by corporate interests.
What sets grassroots radio apart is that local citizens are the programmers, producers, and hosts of the programming. The average grassroots community station will have anywhere from 40-100 citizens on the air each week, sharing their many interests, musical knowledge, passions, issues, concerns, ideas, and information with their communities. They have been trained, often free of charge, in the art and craft of radio production. Our grassroots radio stations are training grounds for radio broadcasters, journalists, audio artists, and activists. In the culture of the grassroots station, training should be a very conscious part of what a community radio station does. The broadcast licenses, issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), are "non-commercial and educational"- two important aspects to focus on when considering the diverging viewpoints in terms of what community radio's primary mission is.
As stated in the mission statement, grassroots radio stations are more than audio outlets; they actually help create community in their listening areas. Civic participation fosters community and identity. There is magic and power in the concept of community radio. In exercising their First Amendment rights, people are bringing issues to the airwaves that are often misrepresented, if represented at all. Listeners are educated, uplifted, activated, enlightened, frustrated, surprised, or empowered by grassroots radio programming. These grassroots stations become a lifeline in a community. They are interactive radio stations. With community members sharing their various interests over the airwaves of our stations, we create programming schedules that no Program Director could dream up. Our Program Directors work with volunteer programming committees (usually elected by volunteers) to create our broadcast schedules, with community input encouraged. Some stations have no program directors, only program committees.
You can recognize a grassroots community station anywhere in the country. There is a freshness you'll not hear elsewhere due largely to the variety of voices and connections the station has with its community. The non-commercial nature of these stations allow us independence uncommon in media controlled by commercial or corporate interests.
We strive for an engaging, professional air sound without sacrificing individual programmer's eccentricities. Sometimes the performances of inexperienced programmers are rough at first, but the beauty of the very idea of community radio comes across with each new voice you hear: people from the community, ordinary citizens, are on the radio. And those new voices become competent and creative broadcasters before our very ears.
Many of the mission statements of grassroots stations refer to "giving voice to the voiceless," "serving those not fully served by other broadcast media," "providing a place for community dialogue," being "the voice of many voices," "exploring alternative issues," "promoting freedom of speech," etc. Since its beginnings in the U.S. half a century ago, grassroots community radio stations have been a magnet for progressive causes and organizations, as well as political and artistic freedom.
While local programming is the backbone of community radio, another element that connects grassroots stations are the independendently produced national programs many of us broadcast, including Alternative Radio, New Dimensions, This Way Out, Counterspin, TUC (Time of Useful Consciousness) Radio, Loafer's Glory, Democracy Now!, WINGS (Women's International News Gathering Service), National Native News, and Making Contact. Along with local public affairs programming, these programs exemplify the alternative programming which provides voices and issues not fully heard on other broadcast media. These national programs connect the grassroots stations, while our local programs ground us in our own communities. While radio consultants find much to criticize about grassroots radio's often "patchwork" programming, we realize that diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and most people who support grassroots stations cite diversity of programming as one of the reasons they contribute financially.
The myth often promulgated by radio consultants relates to how people "use" radio. They tell us that people need to know what they'll find when they tune into our stations. We think it is insulting the intelligence of people to think that they can not accept or appreciate variety of programming, especially at a station owned by the community. We believe in expanding the audience for the variety, not reducing the variety to expand the audience.
We also broadcast long format discussions, interviews and lectures which counter the "soundbite" mentality of much of today's corporate media. Our stations engage communities in dialogue about issues, local and global, and encourage thought, debate, and action.
Grassroots radio stations foster community by sponsoring events on and off-air, events which bring community members and other non-profits together. Musical events, lectures, fairs, festivals, book & music sales, auctions, etc., are common fund-raisers for grassroots stations. WERU FM's annual Full Circle Summer Fair and WMNF's Tropical Heatwave bring together thousands of people in celebration of community as well as creating awareness of the stations and their diverse programming. KGNU's fund-raising lectures with speakers like Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman help reinforce the mission of the station while raising funds and awareness. Most grassroots stations host events like this which actually help create community. Grassroots stations often have "community rooms" at their facilities, which are used for meetings, events, and live on air concerts with studio audiences in attendance.
Important principles to maintaining a community involved grassroots station are: participatory governance, with active committees involved in decision-making, community and volunteer involvement in all major decisions, openness on the air (no gag orders!), elected volunteer representatives serving on the board of directors, open access to the airwaves, active recruitment and ongoing training of volunteers, commitment to diversity, consideration of those underserved by other broadcast media, and diverse programming.
Grassroots stations generally have 100-200 volunteers each, depending on the size of the communities they serve. These volunteers become ambassadors for community radio in their broadcast areas. The sense of ownership increases as the number of involved community members increases. That is the crux of an important issue for grassroots stations: the more people involved in your station, the better off you are. If grassroots stations are to truly be cornerstones of participatory democracy, we need to engage as many people as possible in our operations. Grassroots radio fosters democracy, both in its programming and its governance.
When we make major decisions, our governance structure provides plenty of time and forums for discussion which involve the community. We broadcast call-in programs about important community issues and decisions, as well as station issues and decisions. Our governance structure has checks and balances built into it, to avoid some of the pitfalls we have seen at our own stations and others.
Grassroots stations are media outlets which keep the public informed about bills and issues in national, state, and local government which directly effect them. Our stations encourage people to become more active citizens. The programming often fosters and stimulates activism.
Grassroots stations facilitate and activate culture in their communities. From live radio drama to high school jazz bands, the airwaves are open for the creative expression of all community members. Unhampered by commercial interests, art can take place on the radio in areas with community radio that is open and willing to be creative. Commercial interests do not dictate what music gets airplay. You'll hear a wide range of music from all parts of the world. You'll hear music produced by small labels and independent artists that you are not hearing on other radio stations. You'll hear live music and interviews with musicians regularly on grassroots radio. Many musicians who travel the country feel welcome and at home at grassroots stations. They appreciate the role our stations play in helping their music to be heard. Our stations will take chances with our programming that other types of radio stations would never take. We broadcast original comedy and satire. Our airwaves sing with poetry, drama, music, and dreams. People of all ages become involved and excited about the fact that a community has its own radio station. Grassroots stations are alive.
Our public affairs programs often awaken people to take action on issues, to get involved, sometimes to start new organizations to work on specific issues, all inspired by the programming on their local grassroots community radio station. Our stations are advocates for other non-profits, conduits for their missions and messages. Environmental organizations, social justice groups, students, labor organizations, schools, and many alternative entities find that grassroots stations will give them airtime when they want it, to get the message out about their actions, meetings, events, etc.
Grassroots stations broadcast call-in programs on important topics, giving the listener a chance to be heard, enabling community dialogue about topics that deserve full discussion. Some grassroots stations cover large areas and create cross pollination between counties.
Access is key in community radio, and there need to be many entry points for that access. When there is a climate of accessibility, you'll find that the community itself fosters access to the airwaves. People think of their grassroots stations when issues come up that they feel should be explored or aired, because they know that access is not only possible there, but necessary, since much of the programming comes from the community through letters, e-mail, phone calls, and visits to the stations.When people understand how grassroots radio is different from other media, that understanding is shared and more community involvement results. When people share their excitement about grassroots radio, they are usually excited about the concept itself, about access to the airwaves, access to training, access to information, access to free speech, and access to the governing of the station. The fact that grassroots stations can be competitive with radio stations with much larger budgets speaks well of what that access represents. There is a wealth of knowledge, creativity, and passion in every community. Grassroots radio helps a community share those gifts in many ways.
When you assess the vital role these stations play in their communities, you see that the impact is broad and deep, especially when you consider the number of people involved in the grassroots stations on the air and behind the scenes. Many times a person who calls in to a community radio program or is on the air as a guest will become a volunteer and before long a producer or programmer. In areas with grassroots radio, everyone knows someone on the radio, or has been on the radio themselves, or will be...
The flexibility of roles is an interesting and important aspect of grassroots radio. Individuals easily move in and out of the organization. A listener may become a volunteer and later a board or staff member. Volunteer programmers end up working on events or writing for our program guides, some maintain our buildings and grounds. The fact that these roles are so accessible and flexible demonstrates the organic nature of these organizations as well as their ability to grow, change, and flower in their communities. It also demonstrates how much choice volunteers have for involvement, depending on their own interests. Many of the volunteers are involved in other organizations, which they help connect to the stations. True ownership by the people engages community in a very real way.
Grassroots stations have their problems, and challenges are many, but if the structures and systems are in place to keep fostering open, collaborative governance, it can be heartening to watch the changes occur in these organizations. When volunteers get involved, they are not usually aware at first just how much they will participate in different levels of station operations, but time and time again, volunteers are drawn to help these stations thrive by giving more of their time and talents. Many people are drawn to the stations to learn broadcasting and find themselves willingly becoming involved in fundraising, governance, concert production, training, and many of the other important tasks involved in running a grassroots station. Volunteers serve on many different committees: programming, personnel, development, finance, engineering, public affairs, and others. This active participation of volunteers sets grassroots stations apart from other types of radio stations.
How Grassroots Radio Came About
The Grassroots Radio movement in the U.S. grew organically within community radio over the past ten years as it became evident that community radio was falling prey to the negative forces of commercialization, corporatization, and homogenization which have infiltrated so much of the media, including public broadcasting. Under pressure from Congress to prove that public media could compete in a commercial market, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) encouraged these trends by altering grant criteria and policies, rewarding the creation of new funding streams (more and longer underwriting announcements, entrepreneurial ventures and so forth), funding programming which would appeal to a greater segment of the American public (read "mainstreaming"), and encouraging consolidation to cut costs.
At the same time, CPB stopped giving the five percent credit for volunteer hours that used to count as income (which gave volunteer-based stations more CPB grant money), and began using Arbitron figures as one of the measures for whether stations would even qualify for CPB funding. Because they focus mostly on the bottom line, these policies threaten the very foundation upon which community radio was built: citizen access to the airwaves in a non-commercial, community owned and operated public radio station, with volunteer power, and funded by listeners.
By rewarding the creation of new funding sources, including "enhancing" and increasing underwriting and creating profit-making ventures, CPB shifted the burden of financial support away from listeners and federal funds and toward the commercial sector. By encouraging the use of focus groups, CPB fostered programming that focused on "non-offensive" topics and formats, rather than the educational programming that has been the cornerstone of public broadcasting. By encouraging consolidation, CPB rewarded conglomerates, bigger stations swallowing smaller, state networks competing with local community stations, and non-local programming.
Staff of community radio stations operating under a grassroots, volunteer-powered, consensus-oriented, community-involved model found themselves gravitating to each other at public radio gatherings such as conferences of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB), in order to have discussions that were not happening in the workshops and panels. There were at least two distinct models of community radio evident: one which seemed to emulate the NPR model, and in fact some of those stations broadcast NPR programming, and the other model, the grassroots community model, committed to volunteers, access to the airwaves, and alternative programming.
The grassroots stations supported one another in the commitment to free speech radio. Two of those stations were KGNU FM of Boulder, Colorado, and WERU FM of East Orland, Maine. As managers of these two stations, we decided to host the first Grassroots Radio Conference together in Boulder in 1996 and co-founded the Grassroots Radio Coalition (GRC) at that conference. We recognized a need for grassroots staff, volunteers, producers, and community members who care about keeping the "community" in community radio to have forums for discussion beyond what already existed.
By sharing our concerns over trends in public broadcasting, the grassroots stations were able to articulate what some of the challenges were that we faced, as well as acknowledge a desire to work together to deal with some of those challenges.
Questions were arising about the direction of NFCB. One of the issues for some stations was The Healthy Station Project conducted by NFCB.
The Healthy Station Project
In the early nineties, NFCB began to push stations towards a model of community radio driven by audience share and homogenized programming, through a CPB funded initiative called The Healthy Station Project (HSP). A similar project, The Blueprint Project was a precursor to the HSP. WERU was one of the stations tapped for the Healthy Station Project in 1993-94. At that time, NFCB was under the direction of Lynn Chadwick, who later went on to be the Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation during its ongoing crisis. WERU withstood the attack of the HSP by doing what any truly healthy community station would do: opened up the dialogue for discussion and debate among the entire community, having open meetings and on-air call-in programs on the topic. WERU solicited listener input on the air by asking "What Does Community Radio Mean to You? Many eloquent letters were received elaborating exactly what the community valued about "their" radio station.
Radio consultants were brought in during the HSP. They criticized the eclectic programming and urged homogenization. The HSP tried to dismiss the importance of volunteers by excluding them from decision-making and discounting their importance as programmers.It's measurements for "health" were questionable if you took the public interest into consideration.
The listeners were kept informed of the HSP, even though the project itself urged WERU to separate the "internal" from the "external." The project also favored closed door meetings which excluded volunteers and some staff members.WERU went against the grain of the HSP, exposed its weaknesses and its skewed priorities, and ended up more committed to the diverse programming and collaborative governance which the project had ridiculed.
NFCB never finished the HSP at WERU. Along with listeners, WERU volunteers, staff, and board reiterated the commitment to measuring success in more than dollars and numbers. Any community station could garner more listeners by mainstreaming its programming, but it would then no longer be community radio. For example, the HSP favored carriage of "World Cafe," a daily music program produced at WXPN in Philadelphia. WERU resisted, because it had a fine local program of eclectic music called "On The Wing," hosted by five different volunteers each week. It had the ability to bring local information within the music program and to respond to listener input and community concerns. If all community stations carried the "World Cafe" every day, think about the number of community voices which would be displaced. Think about how that would change the nature of those stations.
As part of the HSP, David LePage of NFCB also pushed for community stations to hire "paid morning hosts" for "consistency." Again, grassroots stations rejected this message. Our diverse volunteer morning hosts strive for a consistent program format while sharing their own unique knowledge and experiences with the listeners. Uniqueness of programming has always been a hallmark of community radio.
The Grassroots Radio Conferences
By 1996, enhanced underwriting, focus groups, and Arbitron-based programming decisions had begun to alter the landscape of community radio. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed with little public discourse or debate and led the way to the corporate monopolization of the media we are now experiencing. There were tremendous external pressures on our stations, including technological changes, increased competition and shifting political winds. The push towards reducing the diversity of programming to increase listenership threatened to reduce eclectic, diverse programming in community radio. The trend towards more mainstream programming also threatened to water down the strong political messages and voices which were already being marginalized by the corporatization of community radio.
We hosted the first Grassroots Radio Conference in Boulder in 1996 to provide a forum for discussion of these pressures on our stations, and hopefully, to save some community stations from the rush to homogenize programming and disempower volunteers -something that had already happened at some community stations.
So much is lost when a community station restructures itself in response to consultants who favor mainstreaming. While that community connection cannot be measured, it is safe to say that it is not outweighed by profits of any size. The community has lost the airwaves. We jokingly called it "invasion of the body snatchers" but this was really no laughing matter.
We also wanted to provide support and information to new stations and stations in the planning stages so they would know that they could operate their stations with volunteer power, collaborative governance, and diverse programming. Perhaps the new grassroots stations being started will provide a counterbalance to those lost to homogenization and greed.
For some stations, the change from volunteer produced local programming to homogenized and satellite-fed programming increased listenership and revenue and was hailed as "success." Discussions at the Grassroots conferences have led us to clarify how community radio can measure success beyond the financial bottom line. We have explored the importance of being non-commercial, of community access, of functioning as a training ground, of creating community.
In addition to KGNU of Boulder, Colorado, and WERU of East Orland, Maine, some of the community stations working under the grassroots model which have been involved in GRC since 1996 include WORT of Madison, Wisconsin, KMUD of Garberville, California, WMNF of Tampa, Florida, KCSB of Santa Barbara, California, KZMU of Moab, Utah, KUNM of Albuquerque, New Mexico, KDUR of Durango, Colorado, and others. These stations, plus independent producers of alternative programming, former Pacifica staff and volunteers who had been embroiled in the early stages of the Pacifica crisis, as well as members of AMARC (World Association of Community Broadcasters), formed a core group of attendees at the annual Grassroots Radio Conferences. The first year there were 85 participants, the second year more than 100, the third year 130, including a tribal caucus of 20 Native American producers and managers, and the fourth year there were 160 participants.
The first three Grassroots Radio Conferences (1996-98) were held in Boulder, Colorado hosted by KGNU, and GRC4 took place in Bar Harbor, Maine in 1999 hosted by WERU. GRC5 is scheduled for July 20-23, 2000, in Madison, Wisconsin, hosted by WORT, a grassroots station celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
These conferences foster dialogue about grassroots issues that were often missing at NFCB conferences, issues like community involvement, access, activism, and accountability in both programming and governance. NFCB staff have also attended all grassroots radio conferences. We believe that GRC has also helped NFCB pay more attention to these issues. GRC4 in Bar Harbor, Maine also had many participants from Canadian Community Broadcasting, thanks to AMARC's involvement.
To give you an idea of the GRC dialogues, the following are some of the sessions and plenaries from previous Grassroots conferences: Advocacy on Community Radio, Programming as Outreach, Community Radio on the Internet and Beyond, The Pacification of Public Radio, Managing a Volunteer Based Station, The Musical Mission, Local News on a Shoestring, AMARC Update, Preserving Culture, What Happens When Everything Goes Wrong: The KOOP Lesson, Training Our Youth, Micropower Radio, Grassroots Underwriting, Collaborative Decision-making, Volunteer Committees, Communications as a Human Right, Media and Democracy, A-INFOS, The National Radio Project, Beyond Arbitron, Beyond Pacifica, Recruiting and Training Volunteers, Environmental Programming, Activism & Community Radio, Exploring Our Missions, Grassroots Fundraising, Independent Producers Panel, Walking the Talk, and much more.
The Grassroots Radio Coalition supports micro-broadcasters and have had their participation at our conferences since the beginning. We see potential for collaboration rather than competition, and believe that with the media monopoly and corporatization of everything else, the efforts to give a few more crumbs of the airwaves to the people would be a victory for all of us. As new community radio stations start up, they often find micro-broadcasting a useful first step towards creating their stations. Community stations could potentially be training grounds for micro-broadcasters. We think it is unfortunate (and inaccurate) to call micro-broadcasting "pirate radio" since they are not stealing anything, but simply attempting to take back some of what rightfully belongs to the public. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 might more accurately be called "piracy."
The grassroots stations have served as models for new community radio stations seeking input about what direction to take as their stations take shape. Stations like KGNU, WERU, WORT, WMNF, KMUD, and others demonstrate that a volunteer powered community radio station can thrive with eclectic programming and collaborative governance.
Grassroots Radio Conferences continue to explore these questions: What does "non-commercial" mean in this age of mega-mergers, enhanced underwriting, and increasing pressures on community stations to be "successful?" What does "success" mean in terms of grassroots broadcasting? What can we do to support each other, independent producers, micro-broadcasters, and other media alternatives as the pressures and fears of the corporate media bear down upon us? How can our Boards, Community Advisory Boards, staffs, volunteers, committees, communities, and systems function smoothly and fairly, with accountability encouraged through the systems? What does the future hold for the Grassroots Radio Coalition five years after its inception? These questions and others will be addressed at GRC5 in Madison, Wisconsin in July.
The GRC provides an important context for community stations to network and form alliances among stations, producers, staff, and colunteers to help work for integrity in governance and programming. For us, it's about taking back more of the airwaves for public discourse and the common good. It's about encouraging the community to be involved in the stations operations. It's about openness on air, fostering freedom of speech, discussion of important issues, inspiring creativity, and activating community on many levels. It is about seeking out voices that are unheard, underrepresented, oppressed, or suppressed. It is also about recognizing that art and culture are vital human needs which help stimulate activism and richness of experiences in a community.
Pacifica's Role in Grassroots Radio
Most of the stations involved in GRC are Pacifica Affiliates, carrying such programs as Pacifica Network News and Democracy Now! We have discussed the Pacifica situation in terms of how it was affecting our own stations and listeners, as well as its impact upon freedom of speech, worker's rights, volunteer power and diversity of programming. We have kept our listeners informed of events within the Pacifica Network, as well as requesting that Pacifica itself cover the crisis because it is news. As Pacifica Affiliates, we have seen managers dismiss volunteers at some of the five Pacifica stations, we've seen increasingly autocratic management, conflict with the union staff and the union itself. We watched with horror and disbelief the takeover of KPFA in Berkeley, which culminated in having armed guards in a pacifist community radio station celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.
When Pacifica switched to the Ku Band for satellite distribution in 1996, affiliates were offered a three year contract which included a "gag order," preventing the stations from broadcasting critical comments about Pacifica. Since KGNU and WERU do not have gag orders at our own stations, we refused to sign and negotiated a change in the contract to eliminate the gag order. At the second Grassroots Radio Conference in Boulder in 1997, Pacifica touted the potential of the Ku for enabling affiliates to distribute our own local productions as well as share productions with each other. With the total lack of communication from Pacifica to affiliates, even discussing the possiblity of uplinking our programs is impossible.
We also organized actions in response to the Pacifica crisis, such as "A Day Without Pacifica," a one day affiliate boycott of Pacifica programming in October of 1999, in which 16 Pacifica Affiliates nationwide participated. . With that action, we stressed the value of the programming provided by Pacifica, particularly Democracy Now!, yet highlighted our concerns over Pacifica management's many affronts to democracy, as well as Pacifica's lack of accountability, communication, and consideration of affiliates during the ongoing debacle. The events of last summer at KPFA in Berkeley were profoundly disturbing to grassroots stations and their listeners, who were kept informed of the events through our own local programming, as well as other media outlets. For us, the Pacifica crisis did not simply appear in 1999. We have been concerned and aware of problems at Pacifica for at least five years previous to the explosive summer of '99. We have also been informing our listeners of these issues for at least the past five years.
Many of us have come to question the value of Pacifica Network News since the removal of news director Dan Coughlin (apparently precipitated by a brief news report he aired about the October affiliates boycott) as well as Verna Avery Brown's departure in response to Dan's dismissal. Most of us support the Pacifica Stringer's Strike and many grassroots stations are broadcasting Free Speech Radio News (produced by the striking journalists) one day a week in place of PNN. Pacifica Affiliate KCSB has dropped PNN altogether, and WORT has been involved in a "rent strike" against PNN.
We believe that some of the problems at Pacifica stem from the same place as with the misguided "Healthy Station Project," namely the attempt to increase audience while sacrificing just what makes community radio so rare and valuable: access for the public, programming not heard elsewhere, and accountability in governance. Of course we all want to increase our audience, but not at the expense of the mission of our stations. We believe that is what Pacifica has done. We will continue to explore the future relationship of Grassroots Radio and the Pacifica Network in Madison this summer at GRC5. What happens at Pacifica affects all of us, and we need to pay attention and care about what is going on there. At GRC4, we began a Pacifica Affiliates Listserv to stay informed about developments at Pacifica and connected to the people working hard to democratize Pacifica.
What's Next for GRC?
GRC is helping to strengthen the roots of grassroots access to the airwaves. It is providing an opportunity for grassroots broadcasters to come together, discuss important issues, and act collectively on those issues. We have given a brief account of the Grassroots Radio movement from our perspectives within community stations. We feel great excitement about the convergence of alternative media, about micro-broadcasting, Independent Media Centers, and the Internet. We hope to encourage collaborations with new media. We feel that grassroots radio will remain vital and relevant in the places it hasn't already been lost.
We're heartened by the activism and articulate messages coming from the people in this country, as well as the formation of many new action networks. As people organize, grassroots community radio is a natural tool for spreading the messages of grassroots organizers, as it has always been. Grassroots community radio stations are in a position to share information in new ways thanks to new technology. No matter how many great new music and news streams become available to the public, grassroots radio has a niche all its own, set apart by the sheer number, variety, knowledge, and talents of the community volunteers who make it all happen. It is also unique because it is rooted in its community, it is radio with an open door, an open door that regularly draws people in. GRC is optimistic about its future and about the necessity of reclaiming more of the airwaves for the public.
Because of webcasting, we are able to listen to other grassroots stations from around the country, which has brought us to another level of kinship, rather than only hearing those stations when visiting in their signal areas. Hearing other grassroots stations helps us understand what the unifying factors are as well as how connection to our own communities give each station its own unique character, and why that matters.
What does the future hold for the Grassroots Radio Coalition? With the fifth Grassroots Radio Conference approaching, all of our stations are facing major issues, as always, but GRC has helped us strengthen our connections to each other and to our mutual mission of making access to the airwaves available to the public. GRC is an organizing tool for grassroots radio and we will continue to explore the potential of collective action in dealing with some of the challenges, as well as sharing creativity, information, and resources.
We are excited about new technologies and about the convergence of various media. As the importance of the work of GRC becomes clearer, we acknowledge that we must be aware of change in response to the many changes around us, and be open to new efforts which will come about in response to other needs and concerns which GRC is not addressing. GRC has provided a necessary compliment and challenge to NFCB. We are an alternative which evolved organically out of a need for an alternative to an alternative. We have consciously stayed a "loose coalition" for five years. At this juncture it is appropriate to fully discuss the future of GRC in light of the many developments within media since 1996, especially in reference to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and its impact. We will once again have the collaborative discussion about whether to formalize the Grassroots Radio Coalition in Madison, Wisconsin at GRC5 in July, 2000.
We will address the issues of diversity among GRC participants and what we can do to ensure that people who are not seated at the table will be. How can we increase involvement by all underrepresented people at GRC, at our stations, and in our programming?
Grassroots community radio stations are natural allies to micro-broadcasters, the Internet is a natural source of information and connection for grassroots broadcasters, independent media journalists and centers are collaborating with grassroots stations and independent producers, and the Internet itself has enabled many grassroots stations to go global.
We'd like to see grassroots community radio flourish and thrive, creating more space for dialogue in the public's interest, not the corporation's interest. We'll continue to encourage grassroots radio stations to speak out about the self censorship permeating mainstream media, corporate control of media, and the need for increasing the number of community voices heard in all media. People deserve and need their own media, media that tells what is going on in the real world, not just what is being bought and sold. Grassroots radio will continue to work in collaboration with alternative press, cable access television, Internet media, micro-broadcasters, and other non-profits. We hope that the number of grassroots community stations will increase with LPFM and other media, and that the exponential potential of grassroots radio will be more fully realized.
We close with a quote from a promotional announcement in support of "grassroots" community radio: "I hope you'll support this community radio station and if you do, maybe the 21st Century will be the Century of the Democratization of Technology. This is Pete Seeger signing off and saying don't forget to make music yourselves."
The airwaves are a precious natural resource, much of which has been given away to commercialism, corporate control, and censorship. The Grassroots Radio Coalition hopes to continue to provide a forum for shining a light on this corruption, for not only preserving what has been saved thus far, but to hopefully help create more public space on the airwaves, to, as Pete Seeger says, "democratize technology" in small, but important ways.
Marty Durlin and Cathy Melio
Marty Durlin has been Station Manager of KGNU in Boulder, CO for the past 13 years. She began her career in public radio in the early 1970s in Denver, and has also worked in commercial radio and as a newspaper journalist and editor. Ms Durlin served on the board of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters for four years, and is co-founder of the Grassroots Radio Coalition. She has developed principles for effective management of volunteer-based radio stations which she has taught at numerous conferences and workshops around the country.
Cathy Melio is an artist, activist, radio producer, and educator. She was co-founder of the Grassroots Radio Coalition in 1996 with Marty Durlin, Station Manager of KGNU in Boulder, CO. She served on the staff of community radio WERU in East Orland, ME since its inception in 1988, first as Production Manager from 1988 -95 and then General Manager from 1995-1999 In addition to regular exhibitions of paintings, she hosts a weekly program of music and information called "Off the Cuff" on WERU, and is a professor of Communication at Unity College in Unity, Maine.
Original at grradio.org