Regional community radio networking. What's it all about?

Community Radio Networking: A Regional Approach in the Northwest

The challenges facing community radio in today's media landscape are substantial and numerous.

Community radio stations, including the many noncommercial stations operated by college and high school students, lack both the resources of commercial stations and the network support of NPR-affiliated public stations. Yet in many cases, these stations are providing their communities with unique and high-quality services. Community radio is one of the last true wilderness areas of broadcasting, where young people, local artists and citizen journalists can experiment as they redefine and reinvent good radio. Community radio embraces, rather than marginalizes, public affairs and cultural programs focused on social justice issues, or the particular concerns of youth, immigrants, working people, women and people of color. Community radio is also home to some of the most inquisitive and courageous journalism being produced today.

Unfortunately, much of the best programming produced by local community radio stations is broadcast once, to a single community audience, then shelved forever. Such programs as KSVR's NAMAPAHH First People's Radio, KBOO's Circle A Radio, KDNA's Entre Amigas and CFRO's Redeye have the potential to serve a much larger regional audience than their stations' limited broadcast signals currently allow. Deep-rooted local accountability is community radio's unique asset among broadcast media. But local community radio's ineluctable smallness and mutual isolation often keeps neighboring stations from inspiring one another, entering into collaborations, or even recognizing one another as neighbors.

The cultural diversity exemplified by community stations in our region is far greater than that of commercial stations or most National Public Radio affiliates. Yet, lacking resources or a structure for coordination, community stations rarely share their voices and their strengths with one another. The resulting fragmentation contributes to the overall marginalization of independent radio voices.

The Northwest Community Radio Network will allow community radio folks in our region to help each other improve these conditions - amplifying our collective voices through solidarity and collaboration.

This network project was formally launched in May 2005 when Reclaim the Media convened an initial planning roundtable of community radio producers and managers in Bellingham, Washington. Participants discussed simple questions: are our stations interested in helping form a network with other community broadcasters? How would such a network benefit each station? At that meeting, representatives from over two dozen stations in BC, Washington, Idaho and Oregon agreed that, despite the resource problems which plague all of our small, volunteer-dependent stations, the benefits of developing a network would be worth the effort. Some potential benefits:

Program sharing and collaborative production:
Using existing and new web distribution systems, our network will help facilitate ongoing voluntary program-sharing among regional stations and independent producers. In addition, the network will provide structure for new multi-station collaborations.

A network will also allow new stations to benefit from the experience and expertise of established stations in their area. The NWCRN will develop and support mentoring relationships pairing up new and established stations. Stations participating in the network by sharing their own unique resources or borrowing from others, will benefit from the richly varied landscape of community radio in the region.

Media Democracy:
Community radio staff, volunteers and especially listeners form a natural constituency, holding in common the values which have led them to seek out media alternatives in their communities. A further goal of our networking project is to help regional college and community radio stations to understand themselves not just as community media outlets, but as constituency leaders who deserve to have their voice heard in matters of federal communications policy. By working together, and by collaborating with media democracy advocates, a network of community radio stations will have the power to develop and mobilize a diverse and powerful constituency to embody and champion the ideals of public media accountability and participatory democracy. free for registered conference participants)

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