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home : out and about : out and about January 25, 2015

11/15/2013 7:05:00 PM
BEHIND THE CURTAIN | Neighborhood radio stations planned throughout Seattle
A student operates the board at Seattle University Radio/KSUB. Photo by Gordon Inouye/Seattle University

A student operates the board at Seattle University Radio/KSUB. Photo by Gordon Inouye/Seattle University

A student DJ looks through records during a Seattle University Radio show on KSUB. Photo by Gordon Inouye/Seattle University

A student DJ looks through records during a Seattle University Radio show on KSUB. Photo by Gordon Inouye/Seattle University

By Jessica Davis

Nonprofit community groups and universities have been given a rare opportunity to apply for their own low-power FM (LPFM) radio license.

To bring awareness and guidance to those eligible to apply, Sabrina Roach, a professional “doer” specializing in public media for Brown Paper Tickets, launched the National Make Radio Challenge. On behalf of Brown Paper Tickets, she has been assisting eligible groups with the applications (that have taken an average of two months to complete) to get them into the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by the Nov. 14 deadline.

“Our company’s social mission is building healthy communities, and we believe that LPFM is a powerful tool in achieving that goal,” Roach noted.

This will be the first and likely the only time that LPFM licenses will be awarded in large urban areas, she noted. It is also the first opportunity in eight years for nonprofits to apply for LPFM anywhere in the United States. 

No stranger to radio, Roach worked 11 years in public media, including Seattle’s KUOW and KBCS, before taking on her position with the Brown Paper Tickets Doer Program, a group of professional advocates for creating positive change in communities. 

In 2011, after the FCC announced its intention to open an application window to award radio licenses to nonprofits and universities, Roach launched the National Make Radio Challenge.

“We believe low-power FM can be a powerful tool in building communities,” Roach said.

As a result, she is now working with the City of Seattle and a number of community groups who intend to apply for LPFM.
“I’m excited. I was surprised that many people were interested in making this kind of media. There was just this outpouring of interest,” she said. “People are interested in connecting with their neighbors and their communities, and this helps to be a bridge.”

Roach has also identified millions of dollars in public funding that is available for applicants in every city she has investigated.

“We found $9 million in public funding available for LPFM applicants to compete for in King County and have created a guide for applicants in other cities to identify similar funding,” Roach said. “LPFM applicants can qualify for this start-up funding and have a great chance at it being granted.” 

‘A unifying force’

At a public event at the Pike Place Market on Oct. 15, 15 Puget Sound nonprofits and universities shared their plans for their prospective stations, and a map was unveiled of the neighborhoods that they plan to serve. 

The Puget Sound radio applicants have a wide variety of new programming planned, from hyper-local news for Ballard, Rainier Valley and the Central Area, to immigrant-rights advocacy in SeaTac, educational facilities for Bothell and Seattle, and recording and collecting oral histories in the University District and Sand Point. 

Seattle applicants include Hollow Earth Radio (Central Area), Sand Point Arts & Cultural Exchange (Magnuson Park), Earth on the Air Independent Media (University District), Seattle University Radio (Central Area/First Hill), Fulcrum Community Communications (Neighborhoods North of the Cut), Rainy Dawg Radio (University District), South East Effective Development (Rainier Valley/Rainier Beach) and El Centro de la Raza (Beacon Hill).

The Central Area’s Hollow Earth Radio has been streaming on the Internet for seven years and is making plans to broadcast on the public airwaves, aided in part by a $19,000 Technology Matching Fund from the City of Seattle.

“By broadcasting even a few miles on the FM dial, we could help more people in the Central District who aren’t necessarily connected to the Internet and, at the same time, become accessible to thousands who drive through our community,” said Forrest Baum of Hollow Earth Radio.

“We believe that this is a tremendous opportunity for Seattle U and small radio stations around the country,” agreed Seattle University Radio general manager Bill Koch. “We realize the importance of having a FM broadcast (as many people listen to FM in the car or at work), and having our own frequency would allow the voice of Seattle U Radio to reach into our community.”

Sand Point Arts & Cultural Exchange’s Julianna Ross noted a station would be a unifying force at Magnuson.

“Having a radio station would add a whole other layer of possibility,” she said, adding that programming ideas from the community include story time, environmental news with NOAA, a call-in show for caregivers and in-studio with artists. 

Reclaiming the airwaves

Engineers who have worked with the FCC predict that between five and eight frequencies could be licensed to Seattle and several more outside of King County (where there is less competition for on-air frequencies), so not everyone who applies will receive one.

“I remain confident that we will get a frequency (whether it’s our first choice is the only question),” notes Mike McCormick, of Earth on the Air Independent Media. “Once we do, we will immediately start fundraising for initial equipment and an operating budget.”

He added that Earth on the Air Independent Media is hoping to create a news and public affairs station located in the University District.

“Our goal is to partner with local grassroots organizations and produce content of interest to their members and North Seattle listeners,” he said. “We see that the current model of corporate-controlled media is not serving the best interests of the public, and obtaining a LPFM license would be a good first step in reclaiming the public airwaves.”

Roach has encouraged those who do not receive a frequency to partner and collaborate with those who do. 

It could take up to a year or more for applicants to find out the status of their application. Then, if they are approved, they have 18 months — with an option for an added 18-month extension — to prove that they can get on the air. After that, they are then eligible to get a radio license. It could take a total of two to five years before the stations are operational.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, Roach will meet with applicants to talk about what’s next, including resources for online digital strategy and fundraising. For more information, go to 

JESSICA DAVIS is a Seattle-based arts writer. To comment on this story, write to

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