Prometheus Radio Project is heading South on the Reclaim the Airwaves Tour to expand community radio. We'll be connecting with MAG-Net members, civil rights groups, immigrant justice groups, labor organizations, and progressive nonprofits to build media infrastructure for our movements. Thanks to the 2011 passage of the Local Community Radio Act – the culmination of a ten-year organizing and advocacy struggle – the F.C.C. is mandated to soon issue thousands of brand new noncommercial FM radio licenses to nonprofits nationwide. These new community radio stations can be powerful tools to empower communities and balance the scales of democracy. Get in touch with us if you want to help support groups in the South to get on the air.
Racism and poverty still grip the South decades after the Civil Rights movement. Anti-immigrant laws have swept from Arizona to Alabama to legalize discrimination against Latinos. Private prisons and detention centers, disproportionately filled with African Americans and Latinos, are a booming business that link lucrative corporate profits to racist policies. Voter repression throughout the South today could strip voting rights from people of color who fought for those rights fifty years ago. Anti-worker laws are reconfiguring parts of the South as new centers of economic growth and labor exploitation.
Corporate media, particularly radio, play a key role in building support and legitimacy for oppressive policies in the South. Conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck reach tens of millions of listeners each week with hateful rhetoric often blaming different minority groups for America's problems and proposing conservative solutions. Community radio, on the other hand, is a tool that organizations and communities can use to make their own voices heard, and to win campaigns that advance human rights.
Prometheus helped the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a migrant farmworker organization in Florida, to build their own Low Power FM (LPFM) radio station in 2003, Radio Consciencia. Since then CIW has used the station to build their membership into the hundreds. They've helped expose slavery in the tomato fields, and they've won historic labor campaigns against the biggest food companies on the planet, including McDonald's, Taco Bell, Burger King, Trader Joe's, and most recently Chipotle. The station broadcasts in five languages and plays indigenous music from the Americas that you won't hear on commercial radio.
We also helped the Southern Development Foundation build their station, KOCZ, Opelousas Community Radio, in Opelousas, Louisiana. The station plays Zydeco music, the traditional black creole music born in that area over a hundred years ago. You won't hear Zydeco on any of the corporate radio stations in Opelousas, which makes sense, considering the people operating commercial stations are usually very far from the folks listening to them. Community radio is locally owned and controlled, and provides a platform for local news and music, as well as a vital space for community engagement.
In 1927 the Federal Radio Commission granted a radio license to the Independent Publishing Company, a platform for the Ku Klux Klan to blanket the South with propaganda and support for conservative policies. Radio has also been used as a tool for progressive organizing. WERD was the first radio station owned and operated by African Americans. At one time Dr. Martin Luther King had his SCLC office in Atlanta beneath those of the radio station. He would sometimes bang on the ceiling with a broomstick and the DJ would lower a microphone out the window for him to make announcements, as documented in News for All the People by Joe Torres and Juan Gonzalez.
We have an opportunity in the coming year to build community radio stations across the South that can help build the region's popular power for decades to come. This is the biggest chance in a generation for people of color to get on the air, the largest expansion of community radio in U.S. history, and the final major giveaway of the radio spectrum – period. Check out the Reclaim the Airwaves tour route, and if we should be talking with you or someone you know in the South – get in touch with us! Email Jeff Rousset at [email protected] or call 215-727-9620 x 504.
Jeff Rousset is the National Organizer with Prometheus Radio Project. After a successful ten-year struggle to pass the Local Community Radio Act, Prometheus is currently reaching out to social justice groups to build new noncommercial community radio stations across the country.