Opinion

Community radio raising money to keep KVWV license

Imagine live, local music, culture, and in-depth news and analysis of the issues that matter to you most brought to you by independent local reporters you know and trust. Imagine local community radio by Bellingham, for Bellingham. It’s not just a dream, it is actually happening!

There’s no doubt that a free and independent press contributes to the health of our democracy and the strength of our communities. Now Bellingham has a rare opportunity to reclaim a part of the public airwaves and make it our own.

In 2013, Bellingham art cooperative Make.Shift, with the help of radio advocacy group Common Frequency, applied for one of only a handful of licenses granted by the Federal Communications Commission to Northwest non-profits dedicated to broadcasting community-based, non-commercial programming. These low-power FM licenses broadcast at a modest 100 watts and can reach three to seven miles depending on the area. Here in Bellingham, it will mean most of the population of the city and a big chunk of Whatcom County can listen in.

These licenses were a direct result of intense pressure by community groups across the country that have been fighting since the 1996 Telecommunications Act to combat the rapid consolidation and loss of local print media, television and radio stations. Over the last 20 years, community groups have challenged the FCC saying they weren’t being adequately represented by the commercial radio stations in their markets.

In 2006, thousands of concerned citizens came out to voice their frustration at town halls convened by the FCC and successfully prevented further deregulation of media ownership rules. Then, in 2013, the FCC passed the Local Community Radio Act, paving the way for upwards of 3,000 new community radio stations to take to the airwaves across America. This may be the last issuance of such hyper-local licenses and Bellingham was lucky enough to get one.

The new station – KVWV 94.9 FM – is already streaming live at KVWV.org. However, it is still in need of $30,000 in start-up funds to purchase necessary operating equipment such as a transmitter, broadcast equipment, computers and mixing boards. The FCC gives stations 18 months to get on the airwaves once the licensed is issued and KVWV is on course to be on the air by January 2016.

Once on-air, KVWV’s annual operating budget will be just a fraction of its start-up costs and will be funded primarily through grants.

KVWV 94.9 FM will not only be a way to hear local and independent music (currently over 85 percent of the music is Northwest local), it will also provide a voice to underrepresented communities and non-profit organizations, and ultimately provide a medium for in-depth civic dialogue in a way no other format can offer. Consider it the town hall, the local art gallery and the live music venue, the bus depot and the farmer’s market, all rolled up into one frequency on your transistor radio. The aspiration is to put fresh Whatcom views on the air and to bring compelling syndicated content to the community.

In an age when fewer and fewer corporations control our news outlets and local media, the scope of content we consume is getting smaller and smaller. Community-powered radio will help bridge the gap, weave connections and help enrich the diverse fabrics of our community.

KVWV is excited to help the community take ownership over the airwaves and equip a new generation of citizen journalists and local culture enthusiasts to document what matters most to them. I strongly encourage individuals to donate to KVWV’s start-up cost fundraiser so it can get up and running by the deadline of January 2016.

To donate and for more information, please visit the campaign online at tinyurl.com/kvwvfundraiser. For volunteer opportunities, business underwriting or non-profit public service announcements, please visit www. kvwv.org.

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