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Microradio Boom: Local Groups Vie for Low-Power FM Licenses

Courtesy of Sabrina Roach
Brown Paper Tickets
A map of organizations seeking low-power community radio licenses.

Your radio dial could be getting a bit more crowded in the next few years depending on where you live.

At least 13 Seattle-area nonprofitsare expected to apply for eight low-power FM radio licenses. They include a southeast Seattle community development group, two universities and a group that organizes in immigrant communities (see below for the full list). Each station would broadcast at about 100 watts—enough to cover at least a 3.5-mile radius.

Sabrina Roach of Brown Paper Tickets has been helping coordinate the efforts. She says soon people living in or just passing through an area can tune in to hear that neighborhood’s perspectives.

“I'm excited, personally, to be able to drive from Seatac to Bothell and tune in to several stations along the way, and hear what’s going on in different neighborhoods,” she said.

That might include local arts, education programs or public affairs. For Hollow Earth Radio, which streams online worldwide from Seattle’s Central District, the mission is underrepresented music.

So why in 2013 would a station that’s already on the Internet want to go terrestrial? Board member and on-air host Forrest Baum says they want people to be able to just stumble across Hollow Earth.

“If people are driving around and they have the radio on, they’ll say hey, what’s this show that’s about the music and the views from right around me?” he said.

Baum says FM is also more accessible to a broader slice of the community, since it reaches people who might not have Internet access (or be savvy enough to make the darn streaming player work).

The federal government just legalized low-power FM in 2011. The law came after a long fight in which national radio chains, including NPR, fought against it. They feared the community broadcasters would interfere with traditional stations’ FM signals.

Sabrina Roach says she hasn’t gotten pushback from local stations, which she says are generally supportive.

Organizations applying for a low-power FM license:

OneAmerica (SeaTac)

Earth on the Air Independent Media (University District)

Fulcrum Community Communications (Neighborhoods North of the Cut)

Hollow Earth Radio (Central District)

Sand Point Arts & Cultural Exchange (Magnuson Park)

D.A.S.H Center for the Arts (Tacoma)

Rainy Dawg Radio (University District)

Seattle University Radio (Central District/First Hill)

SouthEast Effective Development (Rainier Valley/Rainier Beach)

Sustainable Bainbridge (Bainbridge)

UWave Radio at University of Washington at Bothell (Bothell)

Voice of Vashon (Vashon)

YOUR.FM Skyway (Skyway)

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.