June 2, 2013
On a road trip across America, one way to stay awake through the long rural stretches is to tune into local radio. It is often charming: live play-by-play coverage of high-school basketball or neighbours calling in to complain about the town library’s new hours or the closure of its factory.
Such topics are absent from the FM dial in big cities, where most channels have been scooped up by large, nationwide corporate broadcasters that stick to popular music, supported by big advertisers.
The cause of local radio was not helped by Congress's decision that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the country's telecoms regulator, exclude urban areas when it offered new licences for community stations in 2000. But city dwellers will soon be able to tune into more local programming, thanks in part to a decade of lobbying by a non-profit organisation called the Prometheus Radio Project.
In June the FCC is expected to issue application forms, due back in October. Applicants must be non-commercial outfits with preference given to those which promise to broadcast eight hours of local programming. They can only use low-power transmitters, giving them a range of up to 6km. In Chicago, one hopeful applicant says, that is enough to reach 1m people.
All manner of organisations want to apply. In Seattle, where eight new channels are expected to be squeezed in, applicants include 206Zulu, whose mission is to use music, art and culture to empower youth, the poor and ethnic minorities. Voice of Vashon, currently operates online, serving jazz and local news to the quirky community on nearby Vashon island.
Hollow Earth Radio, another streaming station, promises to feature "found sound, field recordings, story-telling, dream-collecting, radio plays, live house shows".