Barnraising in Spokane: Fertile Season for Community Media

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Media Politics: Autumn is Fertile for Community Media
by Jonathan Lawson

Just a year ago, in the days following Seattle's Reclaim the Media conference, low-power FM activist Pete Tridish of the Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project embarked on a short mini-tour of regional LPFM applicants. Visiting hopeful microbroadcasters in Port Townsend, Whatcom County's River Farm and Bellingham's Museum of Radio, Tridish offered advice about antenna locations, competition for available frequencies, and completing the cumbersome LPFM application process within the allowed window.

Tridish hoped to be able to return to Washington for an LPFM "barnraising" similar to those Prometheus has organized to launch community stations in Oroville, California and in Opelousas, Louisiana. At each of these events, local and regional activists and neighbors get together for a weekend of broadcasting workshops and lots of actual construction, from the mixing board to the antenna tower.

Now, several of the state's sccessful LPFM applicants are ready to hit the airwaves, and Prometheus' crew will hold a barnraising this October 24-26, not in western Washington, but in Spokane, giving birth to the 100-watt KYRS, Thin Air Community Radio.

Thin Air will bring a diverse array of programming to an area poorly served by existing corporate broadcasters. The station's website (thinairradio.org) gives a list of volunteer-proposed programs including a broad and multilingual array of public affairs concerns and music formats. If even a third of these make it into the actual schedule, Thin Air will rank alongside Vancouver's CFRO as one of the most diversely-programmed broadcast stations in the region. This kind of organizing hasn't come fast or easy. Plans for the station date back at least to 1999 when the station organization was founded, sponsored by a local environmental advocacy group. Station coordinator Lupito Flores has also linked his work at the station to the national media democracy movement, speaking at last fall's Reclaim the Media conference and hosting a series of progressive activist events in Spokane as fundraisers for the station.

The barnraising event will be a kind of activist homecoming for Pete Tridish, as a matter of fact. In a telephone conversation, Flores told Tridish that a local steelworker union leader named John Goodman had offered to arrange donated labor for the important work of raising Thin Air's antenna tower. Upon hearing that Goodman had helped broker the Seattle WTO's acclaimed Teamster-turtle alliance, Tridish had a flash of recognition--he had been in jail with Goodman in Seattle. Like other protesters practicing jail solidarity, the two identified themselves only as "John WTO" and so didn't stay in touch after their release--they'll finally meet again in Spokane.

Thin Air will be the first eastern Washington station to go on the air with a new LPFM license. One station, or possibly two, are already broadcasting on Washington's isolated Pacific coast. Other successful LPFM applicants in Washington include the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and Olympia's Media Island, among other civic organizations and rural churches. Some of these folks are likely to head to Spokane on Oct. 24, along with as-yet-unsuccessful LPFM applicants from the aforementioned Port Townsend and Whatcom County stations, and from Vashon Island's Voice of Vashon. Of course, plenty of pirates will also sail in from Seattle, Olympia, Issaquah, Pullman, Moscow, Portland and parts unknown.

The Spokane barnraising isn't the only thing that's making this a fertile autumn for community media. Media Democracy Day is Oct. 17, so watch out for local events taking place in Vancouver and Seattle. On Oct. 25, the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibilty and Reclaim the Media are launching a campaign on community cable/broadband access (more on that in the next Media Politics).

Finally, now's the time to make plans to attend the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, WI this November 7-9--the somewhat incredible list of speakers includes Bill Moyers, Naomi Klein, Mark Crispin Miller, Russ Feingold, Makani Themba-Nixon, Ben Bagdikian and a host of the brilliant, tireless grassroots activists who have driven the media democracy movement for the past two years.

For more information on the Thin Air barnraising, see thinairradio.org or prometheusradio.org.
For more on the Madison conference, see mediareform.net.

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