Every day, ColorOfChange members are volunteering and organizing to make a difference in our communities. Now, we have the chance to multiply the impact of this powerful community engagement by taking our voices to the airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to license thousands of new community radio stations across the country, and is expected to make applications available this month.
Community radio is a powerful tool for amplifying the voices of everyday people and propelling social change. Together, we have a rare and critical opportunity to massively expand Black radio ownership in this country, while bringing the work of our best community organizations to a whole new level. For the very first time, the FCC will be licensing new stations in urban areas,1 where dense populations can mean tens of thousands of listeners. And no prior experience in radio is needed to apply.
In the 1960s and ’70s, local Black radio stations served as the political and social drumbeat of Black communities. At WERD Atlanta, the nation’s first Black-owned station, DJ “Jockey Jack” Gibson made a habit of slipping political news and commentary between record plays. Broadcasting directly above the offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Gibson was also known to lower his mic out the window to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whenever Dr. King wanted to make a statement on air.2
Influential local Black stations like WERD were largely pushed off the dial after Congress deregulated the airwaves in 1996, ushering in an era of massive media ownership consolidation.3 Deep-pocketed corporations were given the green light to buy up thousands of stations at once, and corporate owners slashed local programming and music in favor of nationally-syndicated content that could be cheaply and easily re-broadcast to all their stations.4,5 Today, just 3 percent of commercial radio stations are Black-owned.6 Unsurprisingly, corporate-owned media fails to fully represent Black folks’ talents, values, aspirations and struggles — but we don’t have to settle for what corporate media decides to air.
If Black folks and our allies take advantage of this milestone opportunity, the solid organizing and local news gathering that is already taking place neighbor-to-neighbor on our communities’ streets can touch countless additional lives. Radio’s reach and popularity has the power to be transformative: twice as many people get their news from radio as from the TV evening news on ABC, NBC and CBS combined.7 And audiences who tune in to community radio in particular tend to be loyal supporters, listening for longer periods than to commercial radio and keeping their radio dials fixed on these stations.8
This will likely be the last time in a generation we’ll have the chance to ensure we’re represented on the radio dial. Please join ColorOfChange in making the most of this moment: sign up today for help in bringing local radio to your community.