Revisiting "community radio"
-- "Culture planning and radio: local music, local content vs. delivery nodes for a national network," 2019
This piece outlined in England what has been happening in the US for the last few decades.
Consolidation of radio ownership. Over the past 35 years radio as an industry has shifted from a system of local ownership linked through radio affiliation agreements to an industry where a few station groups control the bulk of the stations across the country, especially in terms of listenership. (Latino-oriented radio is still an exception.
De-localization of radio. Radio, because it is a function of physics and the distance that waves can be propagated, typically was a local phenomenon, local stations with DJs familiar with the local community, with followings, etc.
But the creation of satellite radio (Sirius and XM which later merged), people could subscribe to music channels independent of a local connection. Later, the ability to stream stations on the Internet as well as the ability to listen to music via YouTube and other applications like Pandora and Spotify furthered this trend.
This allowed for two different things:
(1) a focus on music as the formats and range of music played on traditional radio stations narrowed and homogenized, while satellite and Internet channels can offer narrow formats but marketed to the entire country as they are not limited the distance a normal radio wave can travel (+ big data allows for music recommendations based on what you've listened too, with the opportunity to be exposed to music you wouldn't have otherwise come across);
(2) delivery of top DJs/personalities nationally, independent of radio stations. This wasn't too different from before, where such personalities like Don Imus or Howard Stern were syndicated to stations across the country. But it did allow the personalities to take a greater proportion of the revenue stream they generated.
De-localization is even worse today, because a couple weeks ago, the massive radio station chain, iHeartRadio, fired large numbers of locally-situated station hosts (DJs) in favor of creating more automated formats and reducing the amount and availability of locally-focused content on seemingly locally-based radio stations ("iHeartMedia laid off hundreds of radio DJs. Is AI to blame," Washington Post).
What it comes down to is the classic labor vs. capital argument. When music broadcasting can pretty much be automated, labor becomes comparatively expensive.
Community radio. The second piece discussed creating mechanisms for continued support of local or micro-radio.
I suggested that statewide public radio networks could open themselves up beyond being National Public Radio affiliates to support more grassroots radio efforts across a state, integrating such stations into a community radio network that is a mix of NPR and non-NPR stations.
-- "Thinking anew about supporting community radio," 2019
But I glossed over the difficulty of successfully maintaining "community radio" stations that are based in "the grassroots" as opposed to locally produced radio stations that are "much more professional," specifically National Public Radio stations, which tend to be affiliated with universities and similar kinds of institutions.
For example, a progressive oriented group of stations run by the Pacifica Foundation has had problems over the decades with tension between local supporters and the national organization in both DC (WPFW) and New York City (WBAI).
A couple of stories I've come across in the past few weeks illustrate this continued tension within local community-embedded radio stations, even without the presence of a national coordinating organization .
KOOP-FM, Austin, Texas. A few weeks ago in the Austin America-Statesman ("Forged by fights and fires, KOOP Radio at 25 is stronger than ever") there was a story about the 25th anniversary of KOOP-FM, a thriving station that has had ups and downs, including surviving not just one fire, but a later arson touched off by a disgruntled volunteer who resented music he wanted to hear on the station wasn't broadcast.
WBGO-FM, Newark, New Jersey. The New York Times just wrote about WBGO in Newark ("Behind the Racial Uproar at One of the World's Best Jazz Sattions"), a "local" station intricately intertwined with the local Black community (comparable to the position of WPFW-FM in DC), and the intra-station tensions there.
It's a station that has been revived because of its ability to stream music via the Internet, but this has led to a perception of disconnection from the local community. At the same time, more than 90% of the station's donations now come from outside the Newark area, where the station's terrestrial signal is broadcast.
Can satisfaction of the needs and preferences of both communities be satisfied? Should they? But if the station was left to be completely reliant on the financial support of the local community, likely it would go under.
From the standpoint of social organization theory, it's an interesting example of the changes organizations go through as they mature, and professionalize (Katz and Kahn, Social Psychology of Organizations).
From the standpoint of the argument laid out in Strategic Marketing for Not for Profit Organizations (Lauffer), it's a dispute within the "throughput public" -- the input public provides resources, the throughput public does the work, the output public is to whom the organization's work and efforts are directed.
This tension between input, throughput, and output publics is something that I see especially in the political campaign process.