Low Power FM: Radio for the Community

Is low power FM set to roar? Some think so. In this era of personalized communications choices, could low power FM radio become one of the choices? Possibly.

Low power FM has been around for a while but hasn’t really blossomed to its full potential. It could now. Commercial broadcasters centralized and homogenized, losing the real value of radio, its ability to inform, involve and serve local communities. They have hastened the demise of broadcast radio.

Internet radio hasn’t really taken off yet. It has potential but it is even less community oriented and more affinity-based than any radio format. Similarly, satellite subscription services offer choice, but not local community service.

Low power FM has been used successfully to reach ethnic communities. It has been a valuable tool for community organization among migrant workers. It’s a tool for under-served rural communities to share information locally, and for education among specific groups such as women’s organizations in many parts of the world.

I’ve long advocated, not successfully, for mainline religious denominations to engage in low power FM. The United Church of Christ has been most aggressive promoting expanded licensing and access. But no mainline group has stepped up to the plate and assisted low power FM to become a tool for communities to organize. This seems strange because many of these same denominations have great numbers of small membership congregations in rural communities that would derive benefit from a low power station.

This could be an outward bound service consistent with the missional goals of these congregations. There are obstacles, of course. None are insurmountable with energy and commitment. But the greatest of these, as I have observed over the years, is how congregations see their role in the community and how local pastors view the relevance of the church to community service. If media involvement is not considered a relevant expression of faith, the tool goes unused.

It’s my minority viewpoint that when we in the mainline fail to engage in this medium, we fail our communities. If there is renewed interest in opening and expanding licensing, perhaps we will get a chance for a “do-over.” I wonder if we’ll take advantage?

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