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Occupy Local Radio

December 15, 2011

Ok all you Michiganders. In 2012, all radio stations in Michigan must renew their licenses with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed, all radio and TV stations are only required to renew their broadcasting license every eight years. It use to be every year and then every three years, but with ongoing deregulation of the broadcasting industry it is now only every eight years.

It is rare that the FCC has not re-issued radio or TV licenses, but this does provide the public with an opportunity to challenge whom broadcasters ultimately serve.

The radio landscape in the Greater Grand Rapids area is pretty bleak in terms of both music and news/information. If you like classic rock, modern country, pop, easy listening, and classical music then you might be happy with what options are available on local radio. However, if you are looking for good hip hop, rap, international music, R & B, Gospel, punk rock and indie rock, chances are you will be thoroughly disappointed when going up and down the digital dial.

The only station that plays music from local musicians is WYCE, but hearing local music on that station is still the minority of the time. In fact, local radio is somewhat of a joke in this city, like most cities across the country.

One of the main consequences of the 1996 Telecommunication Act was to allow companies to go from owning no more than 3 stations in any given market to owning up to 8 stations in any given market. This essentially killed the idea of local radio. A company like Clear Channel went from owning a few dozen stations in 1996 to now owning a few thousand. Clear Channel then wasted no time downsizing staff at local radio stations, automating radio broadcasting and choosing from a much smaller list of music. Anyone who drives cross-country will tell you that you will hear the same songs played all day long across the country. Contrary to the first MTV video by the Buggles, video did not kill the radio star, media ownership deregulation did.

This consolidation of ownership also drastically impacted local news/information on radio. Again, downsizing of staff meant less local radio news is being produced and it has been replaced with syndicated talk shows. In Grand Rapids that means on WOOD Radio you get 3 hours every Monday through Friday of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Dave Ramsey. That’s 12 hours of hate speech and misinformation 5 days a week and 3 hours of money management advice.

Change the channel you say. Well, the other stations give you more of the same, a liberal version of the syndicated talk shows, plenty of Christian programming, more sports than anyone could possibly listen to and just a sliver if independent news/information by tuning in to Reality Radio in Grand Rapids. Sure there are a few local NPR affiliates, but WGVU does little local news programming and the Michigan Radio station in the area has one reporter who covers all of West Michigan.

So what can be done? First, we can all file formal complaints to these stations by sending either an e-mail or regular mail that they are required to put in their public files. The amount of letters and their content could sway the FCC to not renew broadcasting license.

Second, get the ALCU to file a lawsuit against these stations for violating your first amendment rights. Since most people do not have access to these airwaves, which are public, we do not have the capacity to communicate with hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. This tactic was used by racial minorities in the 1950 and could be used again.

Third, groups of people based on religious beliefs, race, national origin or sexual orientation could begin to demand that their communities have a regular slot on local radio stations…..say at least an hour a week to share information specific to their community needs and interests. What do you think would happen of a group of Native Americans went down to Clear Channel’s offices or WGVU or WJRW and said they want their own radio show?

Lastly, what if members of the public in general or Occupy Grand Rapids decided to occupy the radio stations in Grand Rapids and demand that they actual serve the vital interests of this community, particularly those of working people and not the advertisers and owners of the stations? Who knows what would happen, but it would be fun to try and maybe, just maybe, we might have democratic control of the radio stations in our community.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2011 3:52 am

    No radio station in Grand Rapids, private or public, will air the type of music we record right here in Grand Rapids. But I really could care less because thanks to internet stations in places like New Jersey, Canada, California and Europe often air our recordings and people worldwide are able to listen to them. From my musical perspective, ALL local radio sucks.

    If anyone wants to occupy WYCE I’ll bring the local music that needs to be aired.

  2. December 16, 2011 4:49 pm

    Reblogged this on The Wobbly Goblin and commented:
    Written for Michigan, but relevant everywhere…

  3. December 18, 2011 10:31 am

    This would be fantastic!

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