Cascadia’s community radio stations plan innovative regional network

Amy Dalton contributed this great article on the NW community Radio Network to Prometheus Radio Project's winter newsletter (pdf).

Most community-radio stations in the US already belong to a mélange of coalitions and networks — including the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB), the Pacifica Network, and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (known by its French acronym, AMARC) which links nearly 3,000 member stations in 110 countries. But organizers in the Pacific Northwest say they are doing something different, and necessary.

The Northwest Community Radio Network (NWCRN) will focus on pragmatic mutual aid, mentoring relationships, and collaborative content production — all work that relies on a geographical proximity and real-time meet-ups. The Cascadia region is defined broadly, including Washington, Oregon, parts of Idaho & Northern California, Canada’s British Columbia, and the southern section of Alaska, and some Pacific islands.

“By focusing on a regional scale, and thus staying more directly connected to local community priorities, we think the NWCRN can help community radio stations meet their potential as full-fledged alternatives to the consolidated, profit-driven media empires that continue to dominate our airwaves” said Jonathan Lawson of Reclaim The Media (RTM), one of the initiators of the network. RTM and Seattle’s KBCS-FM began conversations around the need for a regional network several years ago. Also instrumental in the early organizing were KRFP 92.5 LPFM – Radio Free Moscow, KSVR 91.7 FM of Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, KSER 90.7 FM in Everett, CFRO 102.7 FM – Vancouver Coop Radio, KYRS 95.3 LPFM – Thin Air Radio in Spokane, KUGS 89.3 FM of Western Washington University in Bellingham, KAOS 89.3 FM of Evergreen State College in Olympia, and CJSF 90.1 FM of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC.

In addition to crossing national borders in its scope, the new network will also rely on a wider definition of community radio than the preexisting networks, explicitly including unlicensed stations (aka “pirates”) as well as college and university stations.

Lawson hopes by including stations connected to educational institutions, the NWCRN can push the “education” mandate to its logical politicized end.

“With few exceptions, university and college stations in our region — especially the smallest ones — are not in the major networks,” says Lawson. “There are lots of licenses issued to college or university stations who for various reasons don’t have a very activist-oriented charter. But then when you listen to what they are actually doing, they do stick their necks out a bit by supporting programming like Democracy Now and trying specifically to get unheard voices from their community on the air.”

We’re hoping that a network will be a place where stations can come together and affirm this, and then push each other farther in that direction.”

One major way it will do this is to facilitate content-sharing relationships between stations — both by helping local producers to disseminate material that has relevance for the whole region, and by facilitating collaborative production between stations. Projects under discussion include a joint talk show, PSA sharing, and an emergency response network to promote “real-time” coverage in situations of heightened political stake. Most significantly – and after some deliberation – the group has made preliminary plans to partner with the Pacifica network and make use of their proprietary archive software called “Audioport.”

Trillium Shannon, a news producer at Portland’s KBOO, is excited about these new channels for distribution and relationship-building. Shannon is a member of the “Circle A News Collective,” and also works with the Portland Central American Solidarity Committee’s Bolivarian Media Exchange (BME) project. Originally the Venezuela Media Exchange, the BME grew out of a delegation that PCASC sent to the World Social Forum in Caracas last January. It aims to develop distribution networks between stations and producers in Cascadia, and those that are a part of and influenced by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Shannon hopes the NWCRN will expand the BME’s distribution channels for the material they procure, as well as their access to material to send back.

Right now Shannon is most concerned with getting material from here to send to Venezuela. “People [there] are super curious about what’s going on in the US movement,” she said. “We just sent out a call saying we are looking for submissions, particularly Spanish-language
content.”

The role of the media in the Venezuelan revolutionary process was a primary inspiration for the NWRCN, according to Lawson. The commitment to include licensed and unlicensed broadcasters mimics the organizing style of Venezuela’s National Association of Alternative and Community Media (known by its Spanish acronym, ANMCLA). ANMCLA includes all forms of community-based media, but the vast majority of its members are radio stations.

“They are networking community media together in an way that is very clearly and expressly a part of a political movement.” Lawson said. He hopes that the NWCRN follow suit, and strengthen the bonds between community media and the social justice organizing going on in Cascadia around issues such as environmentalism, energy sustainability, and immigrants rights organizing.

“The direction this project will take is now up to the stations themselves,” he said. “But I will say that we think a network founded on values of democracy and social justice is really the only kind of network worth having.”

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey