Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Grassroots Radio Conference in Urbana, IL. Douglas Arellanes joined me for the four day conference that mainly concerned the future of community radio in the United States. The conference was hosted at the Independent Media Center in Urbana. Many groups meet here to try to improve the local community and have been responsible for many great projects including bringing gigabit internet to Urbana.
On Thursday we were lucky enough to be introduced to MAG-Net, an organization that is focused on social justice. We were able to hear from Betty Yu who really started getting involved with her community when she started organizing garment workers in New York to stand up for their rights. It was inspiring to hear about her work to fight for minimum wage and fair working conditions.
Later in the evening, we saw Corporate FM, a film by Kevin McKinney about how the 1996 Telecom Act allowed large corporations to purchase as many FM stations as they wanted. This in turn greatly reduced the number of locally owned commercial radio stations. It was a great movie with a powerful message and Kevin seemed very passionate about the issue.
Friday was the first full day of the conference and was packed with great sessions. The first one I attended was about how to make radio shows that are transferable to television and vice versa. It was very interesting how closely intertwined the two forms of media are on certain points. A great example of this in action would be Democracy Now! a radio show that is being formatted for television.
During session two I heard from experts about the upcoming application process for low power FM stations. They expect this will happen some point next year. I personally enjoyed hearing from folks that were planning to start their own community radio station to provide local programming that is currently missing in their community.
Later in the afternoon I attended a session hosted by Professor Mugiko Nishikawa and Thomas Garza who worked on the Harukana Show for WRFU-LP out of Urbana. This radio show was very interesting because it was in Japanese, a language not often heard in Urbana. The concept began when Mugiko came to the US on a sabbatical and continued the show even though Mugiko moved back to Kyoto. Every Saturday morning, she and one of her co-hosts Skype into Urbana and do a live program which broadcasts in the US on Friday night. You can find out more about it here.
During the last session on Friday we presented Airtime to a group of about fifteen people. Doug talked about the history of Airtime and Sourcefabric. We were both excited to find out that a few people had heard about Airtime and some had even used it. We also did a quick demo before the session was over. The group was impressed and it sounds like we're going to be working with a few of them on some projects in the future.
After sharing a few beers with Doug over dinner we headed back to the conference to attend the keynote speech with Joe Torres from Free Press about the past, present, and future of community media in the US. Hearing about all of the research that went into his book "News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media" was great, I enjoyed learning about how far we've come in community media and how much further we have to go. It was a nice close to our Friday night.
Saturday brought an entirely new set of sessions that I was eager to attend. It started with a session on the future of college radio in the US. I was disheartened to hear that with the economic slowdown in the US, many universities are selling off their frequencies to help alleviate the financial burden. I heard from folks like Sharon Scott who has been fighting to save these stations and keep them in the hands of students who want to preserve their broadcasting legacy.
Later in the afternoon Doug and I attended a session by Donna DiBianco on broadcasting techniques and finding your voice for radio. I've never been involved in production, but it was a great session and it was also interesting to hear Doug talk about the radio show that he does as well.
I was very grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference and I was inspired by how passionate the people that were there are about community radio and community media. I think I can speak for both Doug and I when I say we are looking forward to attending the Grass Roots Radio Conference next year.