If you’re sick of stale corporate radio and desperate for local alternatives, you may have heard of the Prometheus Radio Project. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit collective — dedicated to empowering communities and spurring social change through community radio — is a proud antidote to the canned corporate sounds of Clear Channel and other radio behemoths.
More than 10 years after a small group of activists with roots in the pirate radio movement founded Prometheus, the organization is working hard to protect existing low-power FM (LPFM) stations from an industry lawsuit and helping the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act, which would open up more radio spectrum space for nonprofit LPFM stations, finally become law.
But Prometheus’ staff and volunteers are also firmly embedded in the grassroots, lending their skills and energy to community groups ready to build a radio station. Since 2002, collective members have traveled around the country for radio “barn raisings,” helping to raise antennae masts, construct studios and build local, vibrant alternatives to an increasingly centralized and corporatized media landscape.
Prometheus staff members Cory Fischer-Hoffman, Andy Gunn, Andalusia Knoll, Anthony Mazza, Sakura Saunders and Pete Tridish corresponded via e-mail with In These Times in early April.
In 25 words or less, what makes you so special? (Keep in mind that humility, while admirable, is boring).
We are a collectively run nonprofit organization of media activists, organizers and techies fighting for participatory community radio.
What’s the first thing that comes up when your name is Googled?
Our organization’s Web site comes up, along with the Media Ownership Lawsuit in which Prometheus sued the FCC for their attempt to trash the few remaining regulations preventing complete monopoly ownership of our media. We won, and that David and Goliath story has made national headlines and is one small step toward ending the corporate domination of our media.
Shamelessly plug a colleague’s project.
Prometheus works with community organizations across the country to build and operate their own low-power FM radio stations. We worked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to build and operate their own radio station. The CIW farm-workers in southwestern Florida have won campaigns for better wages and working conditions against the largest fast food corporations in the country. They are currently battling against modern-day slavery in Florida’s fields and taking on food suppliers like Aramark and Sysco to demand an end to exploitation.
Describe your politics
We are collectively run because we believe that all people’s voices should be heard. We work with social justice organizations that are parts of a larger social movement fighting for self-determination. We believe that we live in an outrageously unequal and unjust society and that those most affected by these imbalances must be at the forefront of changing this system and bringing about justice. We recognize that more democratic access and ownership of the media plays an essential role in this process.
(Come up with a question for yourself and answer it.)
How many fingers am I holding up?
Name a journalist whose work you read religiously. Why?
Seymour Hersh. It’s unfortunately so rare to see a journalist who has worked so long and is so well-respected in the “industry” and still speaks truth to power. Helen Thomas comes to mind as well.
What is your favorite In These Times story?
Well, that’s easy: “Mo’ Power for Low Power.” This piece features the Chicago Independent Radio Project—which, along with other groups across the country, is eager to see our airwaves open up for more community radio stations.
What’s a mistake the mainstream media always makes that really gets under your skin?
Mainstream media often provides a narrow view of important issues that face our communities by highlighting the voices of those they consider to be “experts.” These “experts” often claim authority while ignoring those that are most impacted by the topic at hand.
What’s your favorite Web-based tool for your job? Give us a quick walk through on how to use it.
We love the Prometheus maptool. This was created by a former intern-extraordinaire, and it links to all of the low-power FM radio stations on the air. Check it out!
What’s one piece of legislation (state or national) you’d like to see passed right now?
We are working hard, teaming up with grassroots folks from across the country and media justice and reform organizations from the beltway and beyond to pass the 2009 Local Community Radio Act. This important piece of legislation will expand low-power FM radio to cities, towns and suburbs across the country, opening up the airwaves for hundreds or potentially thousands of new, non-commercial, local, participatory community radio stations.
Are you involved with any interesting forms of activism? Could you tell us about any of these projects?
We are working with people across the country to pass city council resolutions in support of expanding low-power FM radio. Resolutions have been advanced in Urbana-Champaign, Ill.; Hartford, Conn.; Boston, Mass.; Lake Worth, Fla.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Frankfort, Ky. We are also asking people to sign LPFM Now! Postcards and mail them into their Representatives. Phone calls, e-mails, letters, meetings and surprise visits to congressional offices are an important part of this campaign as well.
How can others get involved?
Call your congressperson right now! Tell them that you support The Local Community Radio Act (HR 1147 & S592), and ask them to cosponsor this legislation as a sign of support for community media.
What campaign should we all sign on to right now?
Join the campaign to expand LPFM. Check out our Web site and get involved. Download a city council resolutions toolkit, write to email@example.com to order postcards and call your congressional representatives now!
How do you get around (bike, public transportation, car)? Why?
Bicycle, but you gotta watch out for those trolley tracks in Philadelphia.
What local media do you depend on?
Prometheus is based in Philadelphia, and the dearth of community media here is what got Prometheus activists involved in these issues in the first place. A few years back however, we were honored to play a role in the re-launch of Philadelphia’s only historical community radio station, WPEB, a progressive, local media outlet serving West Philadelphia.
Have you ever had any run-ins with the law that you’d like to share?
Prometheus grew out of the pirate radio scene, so collectively we’ve had lots of run-ins with the law. It would be silly to go into the details of any one incident, but let’s just say that our interactions with the law have cultivated in us a hearty respect for those who choose to defy the law and face the consequences for what they believe to be right.
What’s the last good film you saw?
Un Poquito de Tanta Verdad, a must-see documentary about the popular uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 and the takeover of the media by women. Community radio transcended simply being a [part of the] “media” but became an essential tool for communications, survival, self-defense and transformation.
What is the last, best book you have read?
Rebel Radio by Jose Ignacio Lopez Vigil, an incredible tale of Radio Venceremos, the guerilla radio station of the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martíi para Liberación Nacional) in El Salvador.
What trend in popular culture do you find the most annoying?
The replacement of face-to-face conversation and personal interaction with the variety of digital connections we have access to today, whether it’s phone, text, e-mail or whatever. We miss just talking to people — face to face!
What celebrity least deserves their fame?
What celebrity DOES deserve their fame?
—April 14, 2009