Edited from an article by Colin Rhinesmith: http://mediapolicy.newamerica.net/blogposts/2011/turn_up_the_radio_fostering_community_media_collaboration-55931

“Putting up the new 95. 7 antenna” by davis.media.access available under a Creative Commons license.

“Community radio is 10% radio and 90% community,” Jeff Shaw says. Speaking at a workshop about bringing together the worlds of low-power FM (LPFM) radio and public access television, Shaw drew this key lesson from his long career as a community media provider. The quote, he added, was inspired by community radio advocate Zane Ibrahim, founder of Bush Radio in Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s not necessarily the tools that are used–it’s about engaging with the community,” Shaw said.

The importance of community engagement was also a major theme for others at the workshop, which was presented at last week’s Alliance for Community Media Conferencein Tucson, Ariz. Titled “Turn Up the Radio: Exploring Collaborative Opportunities for PEG and LPFM,”  it featured a variety of lessons for how LPFM advocates and Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) Access TV providers could benefit from working together more closely.

Workshop leader Erik Möllberg, assistant manager at Access Fort Wayne, for example, provided a short history of collaboration between the PEG TV and LPFM movements.
“It was a fantastic opportunity.  Licenses were coming out, and then, somehow, Congress came out with the Radio Preservation Act of 2000, which knocked a lot of the frequencies that were available [for LPFM] around the country out. But a lot of LPFMs still did start at that time.”
For PEG providers, community radio offers an opportunity to extend their mission by reaching people who otherwise do not have a voice, Möllberg added. LPFM has been “a nice way of pulling in other sectors of society that were not using access television and that might work much better for them,” he said. And today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised–not quite ready, but poised–to open frequencies up to the public again. This is a great opportunity to once again bring together community radio and public access TV, he said.

The Fight for More LPFM
With a new public licensing period opening as early as June 2012, a small window exists for the FCC to make more than 1,300 channels available to the public. Prometheus and other LPFM advocates, however, are concerned that commercial broadcasters will snatch up the LPFM frequencies and use them for translators–which simply repeat the radio signal from distant channels rather than providing locally-produced content.

The FCC decision will have profound implications for channel allotment for LPFM in urban areas, which host many PEG access TV stations. A low-power radio station that broadcasts even three miles into a city could potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people.

Why Did Davis Community TV Apply for an LPFM License?
As part of its efforts to serve Davis, Calif., the local community media center incorporated Davis Community TV in 1988 and added educational access television a decade later. But the center also launched KDRT, a community radio station, in 2004, when the FCC had its first licensing window. KDRT thus represents one of the first LPFM stations to originate from a public access TV station.

One reason the center pushed for a community radio station was because it fit with its mission to build infrastructure independent of the cable systems and corporate gatekeepers, in order to free communities from media systems that are solely dependent on profit-making, said Shaw, who works with KDRT and other Davis community media efforts.

How LPFM Benefits the PEG Access Community
Upon launching KDRT, overall participation at Davis Media Access doubled, Shaw said. There was a lot more energy at the center, and board and committee participation went up, as did training programs and mediamaking for the center’s cable channels. Networking and affiliations increased, including with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, which became a strong ally in the community media movement.

In addition, county officials used the radio station and engaged more with station staff and managers. Davis Media Access was able to apply for grants they previously had been out of reach, an increased audience helped boost its donor base, and the initial radio launch party grew into an annual fundraiser.

PEG access stations interested in finding out more about their local community radio landscape can visit the Community Media Database, a pilot project led by Rob McCausland being completed in partnership the New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative and Prometheus with funding from the Benton Foundation.