Seattle celebrates World Radio Day with plans for new low-power stations

World Radio Day CakeRadio is the world’s most widespread medium–over 70% of the world has access. With new low-power licenses being released locally this year, you can expect more diverse voices coming your radio dial.

Wednesday was United Nations World Radio Day. The holiday was declared for the first time last year to celebrate the 118 year old medium that still reaches the widest audience worldwide of any method of communication.

Radio connects with communities across economic and education levels (75% of households in the developing world have access to a radio). It reaches listeners who are engaged in other activities (like driving or cooking) and tells stories that resonate in a different way than other forms of media.

This is just as true in the nation’s largest cities as it is around the world.

Seattle’s official celebration of the was an “open house” lunch at Hollow Earth Radio in the Central District, complete with “Happy World Radio Day” cake, to introduce the community to three King County organizations whose voices will soon be heard on local airwaves.

Hollow Earth Radio, OneAmerica and University of Washington Bothell talked about why they would be applying for one of eight new low-power FM (LPFM) radio licenses expected to be awarded in Seattle, when the FCC opens the first (and probably the only) application window for licenses in the nation’s urban centers this October.

All three groups are being aided by Brown Paper Tickets, a Seattle-based Not-Just-For-Profit event registration and ticketing company, (and sponsor of the Seattle Globalist), that has committed resources to filling every available LPFM frequency in Seattle with a qualified applicant, as a model for community groups across the country.

From left: Rahwa Habte of OneAmerica, Forrest Baum of Hollow Earth Radio, Sabrina Roach of Brown Paper Tickets, and Ellen McCleerey and Paul Kim from UW Bothell. (Photo by Harmony Gonty)
From left: Rahwa Habte of OneAmerica, Forrest Baum of Hollow Earth Radio, Sabrina Roach of Brown Paper Tickets, and Ellen McCleerey and Paul Kim from UW Bothell. (Photo by Harmony Gonty)

The room was filled with people talking about what urban neighborhood radio could look like, and each organization took a few minutes to explain why they are applying for the license and what kind of content they hope to deliver.

“We want to be heard by more of the community,” said Forrest Baum, of Hollow Earth Radio. “Just before today’s World Radio Day event began, a guy came into the studio from off the street and told me that he can’t listen to us because he doesn’t have a computer; those are the people we really want to reach.”

Hollow Earth Radio has been streaming programming via the Internet for the past 6 years, bringing community news and music from all genres and nations to the airwaves. The station provides airtime for in-studio interviews, new music, and support of local music events for the D.I.Y. music and arts community, and airs live recordings of shows taking place in alternative spaces in the Northwest, produced through a music documentation project, Off Tempo.

Education and hyper-local content were the priorities for a proposed student-run station at  UW Bothell. Ellen McCleerey spoke about how classes got the students interested in applying for an LPFM for a student-run station that would be a training laboratory, serve the campus and surrounding community, and prepare them better for a smooth transition from campus life to their new careers.

OneAmerica, an immigrant rights organizing project, plans to build an LPFM station that broadcasts in multiple languages, to further their initiatives in civic engagement, leadership development, media education and training.

“Creating programming in the native languages of our immigrant communities will strengthen our entire region,” said Rahwa Habte, a OneAmerica organizer.

In the digital age, there are those who may think that has radio outgrown its relevance in big, tech-savvy cities like Seattle.

But grassroots community organizations and student groups remind us that hyper-local content is as relevant and in demand as ever. Perhaps even more so today, as the Internet has shaken up the business models of the world’s media organizations.

Right now, corporate attempts to do “hyper-local” news projects are going belly-up. Perhaps a more authentic and community-based approach could survive with the right partners and a non-profit business model.

Brown Paper Tickets’ Not-Just-For-Profit mission is to build communities, and the company believes that LPFM is an important and powerful tool in that mission.

As a Doer for Brown Paper Tickets, a community engagement program that makes “paying it forward” part of the business model, I am able to give free assistance to any organization needing direction in their LPFM application. Check out my LPFM Toolkit, if you are looking for more information. Also, I will be a part of the Washington Digital Inclusion Summit on March 14.

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