Radio to the People
December 3, 2007 4:41 PM   Subscribe

The Prometheus Radio Project focuses on building a large community of low power FM stations and listeners. Co-founder Pete Tridish (interview) and Prometheus won a major victory recently as the FCC Moved to Protect Low-Power FM Stations. Check out a couple short films about Prometheus "barn raisings," or launching small community radio stations in Woodburn, Or, Nashville, TN and (especially fascinating) Arusha, Tanzania.
posted by The Straightener (26 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Yea, for they are awesome! I used to work with a guy who worked with them for awhile :) (Josh, if you're on here, hi!)

Just a really, really cool group. I believe they've just started (or will soon start) broadcasting out of West Philly.
posted by kalimac at 5:04 PM on December 3, 2007

they're the folks who set up the lpfm station in the astro dome after katrina. i know they had people ready to come into new orleans and the gulf coast to help rebuild community/indie stations shut down by the storm, but they couldn't get into the city, and then they couldn't get authorization from the stations. those people are hard core, and they work pretty much for nothing except love of what they're doing. i've had some dealings with hannah sassaman and andy gunn, and they rock!
posted by msconduct at 5:26 PM on December 3, 2007

They gave a presentation at the last HOPE and were substantially more persuasive and impressive than most of the hardcore infosec geeks. Go figure.
posted by Skorgu at 5:32 PM on December 3, 2007

These are hard-working people and a great project--their work has also been thoroughly photographically documented as they travel across the planet, helping set up community radio stations. Most recently, Prometheus Cheerleaders took on the FCC, in protest of further media consolidation. If you also like free media (via Low-Power FM), you can join them in urging US congresspeople to support the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 [pdf].

disclaimer: I've no direct relation to this work, but I know many people involved. They're good people.
posted by zachxman at 5:42 PM on December 3, 2007

One of their guys came and gave a talk here in Worcester, MA about starting a low-power station in town. They were really supportive and were a great resource when we were trying to figure out if we could do it. The station never took off, but they fight the good fight.

If anyone is interested in low power radio, they're the ones to talk too.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 5:58 PM on December 3, 2007

I love this. And in fact the cost estimate is way high - a low power FM rig can be built for under $200, and used broadcast equipment can be had for a similar price. You need a bit more knowhow, but the barriers to entry are set pretty low.
posted by Sukiari at 6:29 PM on December 3, 2007

This project is very interesting, but with the mandated swithc to HDTV in the US in 2009, and millions of NTSC TV's likely to still be operational by then, I wonder what it would take to operate pirate TV stations on the old abandoned NTSC frequencies?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:55 PM on December 3, 2007

I worked with them two years ago when they blazed into town to set up our low-power FM station. It was one of the wildest, lowest-to-the-ground, fast-moving, high-tech, decentralized activist experiences I've ever had.

And profoundly effective. In three days, they brought us from empty room to fully operating station studio. We flipped the switch and it worked, and two and a half years later it's still working. The Prometheus folks were genuises, but even more important was the network of free-media activists that they're in touch with; more than 100 people descended on us like fairy radio godmothers, got to work with circuitry and chart paper and antennas and shelving and laptops and minidisc recorders, and made the whole thing happen. Meanwhile, while a crew was always at work on the studio, they set up a rotating schedule of workshops including newsgathering and news reporting, audio editing, audio production, running sound for live music, collective programming, the free media movement, etc. Workshops were requested and developed by the people in attendance - we had college radio folk and media activists, yes, but we also had NYTimes reporters and people who produce documetaries for CBC and NPR. Oh, and they also fed everybody - set up a hippie kitchen producing big big pots of vegan black bean soup , cornbread, pasta salad, muffins, and the like for three days. The meals became an incredible forum for conversation and collaboration.

Can't say enough about them. They walk the walk. Individually, they are an impressively unique mixture of completely tech-savvy and linked in blended with lefty crunchola. Fantastic people. Doing something significant.
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on December 3, 2007

Here's our station. We're going for a full-power license this year, too.

a low power FM rig can be built for under $200, and used broadcast equipment can be had for a similar price. You need a bit more knowhow, but the barriers to entry are set pretty low.

While that is totally true, the antenna costs quite a bit more, and the legal and FCC negotiations usually require the help of a lawyer and/or engineer. Having enough equipment to have multiple CD decks, automated DJ systems, computerized music files, enough mikes/cables to set up a live band etc. - is less cheap than just getting on the air. We've found that it costs a fair bit to operate our station - about $10,000 a year (we rely on donations and grants)- though if you didn't aspire to be a busy and higher-profile community station you could certainly get going for much less.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on December 3, 2007

As a DJ for a pirate radio station, doing low-power radio is a absolute thrill, have a 100watt in SF, LA and Berlin. We thumb our nose at the FCC but they don't care about us enough to bust our ass.

Its important to have quality filters on the transmitter so you don't bleed into commercial frequencies, as the hammer come down on your ass hard for that shit.

As DJs have monthly dues to participate, we have rent for the studio, rent space at where the antenna is, sharing the cost of the internet access, hosting and whatnot. It cost us close to a grand a month to operate the station.

There is another low-power radio station that might be geared towards smaller operations, in SF called Neighborhood Public Radio, they usually run the station in a storefront of a community center or art space.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 8:38 PM on December 3, 2007

and on the note of shameless self-promotion, I'll have Matt on my show on the 15th, 4pm PST
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 8:39 PM on December 3, 2007

Um, wow. So as a long-time lurker, occasional poster here on MeFi, I'm a bit surprised/pleased to see this. In my day job, I'm the staffer for Mike Doyle (D-Pittsburgh), Vice-Chairman of the Telecom Subcommittee in Congress, and the lead sponsor of HR 2802, the Local Community Radio Act (along with Rep. Lee Terry (R-Omaha) . The lead Senate sponsors are Sens. Cantwell and McCain.

The legislation's important because right now, the law only permits LPFM in small cities and rural areas. Only a few are in major markets. The Nashville example might be the biggest. The FCC last week had a great ruling protecting space on the dial for LPFM stations, but Congress has to pass a law allowing for more of them.

I can tell you that even a single call to your Congresscritter can make a difference.

1) Learn more about the issues on this factpage.

2) See if your Congresscritter is a cosponsor of the bill.

3) a) If they are a cosponsor, thank them if you see them, write them a note, etc.
b) i) If they're not a cosponsor, then call their DC office, ask to speak with the telecom staffer, and use the info you learned in step 1 to ask them to cosponsor HR 2802.
ii) Send them an email with this handy-dandy tool.

People have already mentioned Hannah the rockstar. Definitely contact her if you want to help further. She's terrific and we could use your help to build momentum on the bill.
posted by kenneth at 8:54 PM on December 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

"While that is totally true, the antenna costs quite a bit more, and the legal and FCC negotiations usually require the help of a lawyer and/or engineer."

Or a friendly ham. I know a good antenna and transmitter can cost quite a bit of money, and not everybody gets a thrill from making their own. But as you say, if you are not too concerned with roughing it a bit, there's no reason why a person couldn't do this on pocket change!

I think that there could be some good ways to combine streaming audio with low power broadcasting, to allow people to host guest shows from offsite.
posted by Sukiari at 8:59 PM on December 3, 2007

I'll have Matt on my show on the 15th, 4pm PST

Should this get sidebarred? I'd encourage you to at least start a MeTa thread on the day of so that interested mefites could catch it on Pirate Cat's live stream.

I'm a former alumnus of the late, lamented SFPL, before they were shut down by the MAN. I love the idea of community radio, but sadly find myself listening to it less and less often these days as I subscribe to more podcasts.

*starts listening to radio to correct this sad fact*
posted by whir at 9:13 PM on December 3, 2007

Er, SFLR, that is.
posted by whir at 9:14 PM on December 3, 2007

there's no reason why a person couldn't do this on pocket change!

That is totally true. It depends on your goals.
posted by Miko at 9:16 PM on December 3, 2007

My goal is an FM stereo signal that will easily span my block. I have pocket change. Now what? ;)
posted by deCadmus at 9:42 PM on December 3, 2007

Should this get sidebarred? I'd encourage you to at least start a MeTa thread on the day of so that interested mefites could catch it on Pirate Cat's live stream.

I'll do that, I'll also post the rss feed of the show's recording which is available the moment show is finished.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 10:49 PM on December 3, 2007

Oddly enough, as I read this post I was wearing a T-shirt that supports a Prometheus LPFM station. I got the pleasure of spending a weekend helping set up WXOJ, Valley Free Radio, an LPFM station out of Northampton, Mass. In 3 days, a group of volunteers basically put the entire thing together from scratch, including building the studio, wiring, etc. Those folks had their shit down. It was a blast and if anyone ever has the opportunity to help them out, you should. It's fun, you're doing meaningful, helpful work, you learn new skills and meet cool people.
posted by christonabike at 11:39 PM on December 3, 2007

And the conspiracy to keep the FM transmitter for my MP3 player useless proceeds apace.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:00 AM on December 4, 2007

A similar initiative started in Berlin last month.

They will provide instructions on how to
set up a low cost node and eventually start
selling kits to make things even easier,
as far as i understood.

Some of it relies on freifunk technology, i think,
which on its own is another very neat thing
to look into, propagating free,
node-based networks for your neighbourhood.

radia is another project of interest to anyone
who's into reappropriation of radiowaves.

(disclaimer: i know a couple of people
from aforementioned projects,
but am not directly involved in any of them)
posted by morizky at 7:53 AM on December 4, 2007

[this is good]
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:39 AM on December 4, 2007

posted by spock at 11:09 AM on December 4, 2007

Yay! This is great. Thanks.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2007

I know some of these cats and they are, indeed, the shit.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:35 PM on December 6, 2007

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