FCC to Accept Applications for Nonprofit FM Radio Stations (Eventually)

For the first time since 2000, the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to open an application window for low-powered FM station licenses, giving nonprofits a chance to get their message out over the airwaves.

For OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy organization based in Seattle, connecting with the people they are trying to serve can be a difficult task.

“Most of the folks that we reach out to that are refugee immigrants that are illiterate not only in English, but in their own languages,” said Rahwa Habte, an organizer for OneAmerica. “We’ve tried flyering, but if folks don’t read then flyering is an issue, even if we get the signs translated into different languages. I’ve had the most success when I’ve had one-on-one conversations with people, [attended] group meetings, and [visited] community centers.”

“Radio is still the most accessible way to reach people.”

OneAmerica hopes it will have a new way to speak directly to its audience when the Federal Communications Commission opens the call for nonprofits to apply for low-powered FM station licenses, something it hasn’t done since 2000. The process was set to begin today and run through the end of the month, but the FCC hasn’t made clear how the application process will be affected by the government shutdown. The application has been unavailable online since the shutdown began.

An LPFM license would give OneAmerica an effective way to amplify its outreach, Habte said.

“It’s a technology that people are familiar with. It’s a technology that, whether people are educated or not, they can listen to and have access to,” she said. “Social media is the big thing right now, but social media doesn’t help if people don’t have access to the internet or aren’t literate. Most people are able to afford a radio before they can afford a fancy telephone or computer. Radio is still the most accessible way to reach people.”

And that’s why Habte believes other organizations can make use of an LPFM. In the case of Superstorm Sandy, LPFMs—operating through generators—were able to get information out to people while power and telephone lines were down and other forms of communication were unavailable.

“It’ll be a great collaboration tool as well,” she said. “We’re working with a lot of different municipalities and school districts that want to make our station a way that they can get critical information out to students, parents, and citizens.”

Running a radio station isn’t your typical project for a nonprofit or association. So how has OneAmerica been approaching it?

“Locally, there’s an organization called Brown Paper Tickets, which created a regional cohort of organizations interested in applying for these low-powered stations, and nationally we’ve been in contact with Prometheus Radio Project, a nonprofit that advocates for community radio stations,” Habte said. “We’re an immigrant advocacy organization, there’s nobody at OneAmerica who’s a radio specialist or knows anything at all about radio, and so it’s been great to have the help of these groups as we get ready to go through the application process and start putting together the programming for the station.”

Though when that will actually happen remains to be seen, or heard.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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