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Profile: Prometheus Radio Project

Emily Udell

Despite an early victory, the court battle between the Federal Communications Commission and media reform advocates, the staff of Prometheus Radio Project—which advocates for low-power FM broadcasters—remains only cautiously optimistic.

Even if Prometheus can galvanize public and congressional resistance to the FCC’s June 2nd ruling on media ownership—a measure that’s been denounced by both Democrats and Republicans—a rollback of the ruling is not guaranteed.

Prometheus spearheaded the legal opposition to the ruling, which would relax media ownership rules by permitting one company to reach 45 percent of the nation’s television viewers and own broadcast outlets and newspapers in the same market. The stay on the regulations, granted September 3 by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, allows Prometheus an opportunity to prove deregulation would permit giant corporations like Fox and Viacom to increase their media holdings at the expense of localism and diversity.

Hannah Sassaman, program director of Prometheus, explains: “The stay keeps the issue current and dire, and keeps fire under the butts of media organizers to keep the American public fighting for diversity on the airwaves.”

Prometheus is well suited to lead this battle, as the group promotes localism and diversity in its advocacy work for legal low-power FM, or microradio, broadcasters. “Radio is intrinsically democratic because it is cheap to build,” says Sassaman. LPFM stations, which cost around $10,000 to build, broadcast up to 100 watts. LPFM stations can fill the gaps in local programming that are inevitably created as national media conglomerates gobble up more frequency.

Pete Tridish abandoned his pirate ways and founded Prometheus in 1997 after the FCC shut down his unlicensed station, Radio Mutiny. In 2000 the FCC started its low-power radio service and allowed some community groups to apply for licenses. Prometheus helped build several of these licensed stations by organizing radio barn-raising workshops, in which volunteers assemble a station from the ground to the antenna. The group held barn raisings in Maryland, California, Louisiana and Washington.

This December, Prometheus will help build a station for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. Radio Conciencia will air programs in several languages, including English, Spanish and Creole.

“The station will be used by our members to talk to our members about the issues at the heart of our work—wages, labor relations and community issues outside the job,” says Greg Asbed, a coalition staff member.

Sassaman contends that LPFM is integral to the future of media diversity. “Instead of thinking of analog radio as a dead technology, I encourage people to reclaim the band as corporations move toward digital technology.” Prometheus intends to bring this message to a global audience by expanding the outreach they’ve done to countries like Nepal and Mexico.

“The ability to communicate freely,” says Sassaman, “is one of the most powerful weapons that a person, a community, a region, a nation can have.”

For more information go to: www.prometheusradio.org, or www.ciw-online.org.

Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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