Fertilizing Grassroots Radio

by Christina Aanestad, May 26, 2010

Community radio enthusiasts descended onto the small town of Garberville, California on May 14th-16th for the 15th Annual Grassroots Radio Confer­ence. Sta­tion managers, show hosts, producers and newsmakers from around the country gathered for the three-day con­ference to share skills, network and dis­cuss all things radio.

Author and independent news producer Laura Fland­ers was the keynote speaker.

She discussed the media’s role in holding public offi­cials accountable, and the mainstream media’s failure in fulfilling that role.

“Keeping someone accountable? We’re no better than the people of Afghanistan,” she said.

Flanders also criticized non-profit organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council for sup­porting a Democrat-backed energy bill to allow off­shore oil drill­ing; she then criticized the Obama Administration, including Secretary of Interior/Minerals Management Service, the agency to oversee oil drilling.

“[Salazar] received money himself from BP and his two biggest donors were from the law firm repre­senting coal. Barack Obama’s election campaign received $70,000 from the oil industry — more than twice of his closest competitor.”

Flanders criticized the mainstream media for fail­ing to connect the dots to the BP oil spill and bring informed context into their reports. She pointed to Obama’s eco­nomic advisor who “did more than any single individual” to break the economy through sup­porting deregulation like ending the Glass-Steagall Act (which kept invest­ment speculators away from home loans).

“What we’ve seen in the last two years is the veneer of new backed up by the same old story. I don’t blame Obama… I blame us,” she said.

Flanders urged members of grassroots media to hold public officials accountable and report what goes unre­ported. She preached to the mostly converted, as some 80 attendees packed the Garberville Theater. According to the GRC website, The Grassroots Radio Coalition was formed as a “response to the commercialization of public radio.” Media makers from across the US and Mexico border attended the event to share skills and discuss media making from a grassroots activist perspective.

Maka Munoz and Ana Martina showed the film “Un Poquito De Tanta Verdad, A Little Bit About So Much Truth,” about how community radio helped galvanized a populist movement in Oaxaca. The film documents how people utilized local radio to inform the community when the state military entered the region after teachers in Oaxaca went on strike. Women took over the univer­sity radio station and then the mainstream state con­trolled TV station. They created local programming to discuss what issues were impacting their communities and make demands.

The story hit home on a local scale in Redway, home to KMUD Radio, which has received criticism from local law enforcement for airing its Community Safety Awareness Reports, by the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project. The station airs reports on the whereabouts of law enforcement as they often pursue the war on drugs in paramilitary style throughout Mendocino and Humboldt counties, known, along with Trinity County, as the Emerald Triangle. Despite the flack, the station contin­ues to provide such reports to its listeners.

Munoz with Palabras Radio discussed the role of community radio in immigrant communities. “The last five years we’ve worked with immigrant commu­nities to use radio as a tool for community organiz­ing,” she said. She said Palabras Radio has set up radio stations for immigrant communities in Connecticut, Chile, Florida and Mexico. In Florida, a station was set up for Imolakee farm workers who successfully organized higher wages from the company that sells tomatoes to fast food chain, Taco Bell.

Martina is working to create a network of commu­nity radio stations at the US border, called “Streams not Bor­ders” to help immigrant communities discuss their news and views on the US Mexico border.

Other workshops included teach-ins on commu­nity journalism, how to set up an FM transmitter, and com­munity radio in emergency disasters and third world countries. Most workshops focused on using new tech­nologies to bridge the gap between commu­nity radio and the World Wide Web. Dan Roberts who produces the Shortwave Report and hosts various programs on KZYX&Z in Mendocino County, dis­cussed how to dis­tribute radio programs online.

Govinda Dalton showcased the Earthcycles multi-media bus, a solar and wind powered school bus that is renovated into a multimedia lab. The bus has satel­lite capabilities, an FM transmitter, and internet audio and TV webcasting abilities. Dalton is News Director of KMEC low power FM in Ukiah. His on the road media coverage is often picked up online and broadcast over the KMEC airwaves.

Flanders urged local media makers to tell their own local stories. On the economy she said, “This is one of the narratives that you need to be telling. What is hap­pening where you live.”

For many media makers in attendance who’ve been doing that for decades, this conference was a refreshing reminder of why local news and local pro­gramming is a necessary foundation for communities and thus commu­nity radio stations in the United States. Though they aren’t used in popular uprisings at home, someday they may be.

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