Article by Marc Lewis
An open-source radio station with a hyper-local focus is coming to Raleigh. Little Raleigh Radio is currently raising money to purchase the equipment necessary to begin broadcasting over both a low-power FM signal and an Internet stream in 2013. Co-founders Kelly Reid and Jacob Downey want to create an outlet solely focused on the music and stories of Raleigh, through which listeners will drive discourse and community issues are given a voice.
"It's about producers taking ownership and creating a vision for each show," Downey said, citing one particular volunteer who told him she's most excited about doing her show, then stepping aside to listen to what her neighbor has to say.
Reid was a music director at WKNC 88.1 FM, North Carolina State University's student-run radio station. Downey is a deejay at the station, hosting a show from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Wednesdays. The two will bring certain qualities from their college radio experience to Little Raleigh Radio, including a distinctive personality and a curated vibe, but they will open the doors to volunteers who want to participate in the conversation.
"We want to give media back to the people," Reid said. “Which is an easy thing to say, but it became possible when action was taken.”
The action was the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, which President Barack Obama signed into law in Jan. 2011. Low-power broadcasting was made more available when the act mandated the licensing of thousands of community stations nationwide. The legislation freed up FM translator licenses and eliminated many restrictions that previously prevented smaller, underfunded broadcasts from taking to the airwaves. Essentially, the act gave legal means for smaller voices to be heard.
The coverage of low-power FM transmissions is shorter, with an estimated range of 3.5 miles, which Downey expects can potentially reach 7 miles in the day and 10 miles at night.
With experience working in radio and having attended a handful of industry conferences, Reid and Downey point to the Local Community Radio Act and various FCC initiatives as evidence that community radio is not a fad but something that will only grow in the future. Reid compares the community radio platform to the “farm to fork” movement, which encourages consumers to understand where goods come from and emphasizes local products.
“Radio is the most successful form of communication,” Reid said. “It’s an immediate resource.”
When Reid and Downey discuss the project coming to fruition, excitement is clear in their voices, because it was something they first envisioned in the fall of 2008. Little Raleigh Radio wants to “give a voice to the value of people and what they create,” according to its website, and “instill a sense of community ownership, stewardship and accountability.” The station has the potential to tackle substantial issues and raise points larger outlets often neglect.
Little Raleigh Radio will rely heavily on volunteers, a team that already numbers around 25 and includes individuals with backgrounds in journalism and radio. The station is recruiting staff members, people who want to get involved with what will be a unique community platform.
"It's an open invite to show up," Downey said, and, with training already underway, the station must be ready to launch when all the moving pieces come together next year.
Little Raleigh Radio is an idealistic venture and idealistic ventures rely on the financial support of the community. On July 19, the two launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $10,000, a sum that will purchase vital equipment for the station. The equpiment will have equal utility for the online broadcast and terrestrial broadcast. As of July 26, the campaign was nearly halfway to its goal and is scheduled to run through Friday, August 31. The crowd-sourced fundraising efforts allow the station to acquire necessary resources in smaller increments, circumventing economic conditions that have impacted many larger nonprofits that rely on larger donations. As the station will survive on the stories and passions of its listeners, serving Raleigh's strong music fan base, it will also be constructed with the help of those who will tune in after the first broadcast next year.
The launch will provide challenges. With limited financial resources and specific regulatory timetables to meet, there exists little room for error. The platform itself, with the potential to be reactionary and highly personal, with individuals driving programs, requires additional training.
"How do we teach fair and balanced reporting?" said Reid, who appears to have been thinking for some time about the challenges inherent in empowering singular voices. "We have to teach people to ask the right questions."
But, as with all idealistic endeavors, if the pieces come together as planned, a strategically mapped route drawn to take full advantage of every dollar raised, the outcome has enormous potential to create original content.
“We want to bring an audience to Raleigh,” Downey said, when asked if he thought the station would ever grow outward or instead maintain its downtown focus. “We’ll always be local.”
On Aug. 3, during First Friday, Little Raleigh Radio will unveil a storefront creation at Designbox to celebrate the Kickstarter campaign and introduce the station to the downtown community. Reid and Downey encourage those interested in being a part of the station’s growing volunteer staff or anyone wanting to learn more about the goals and aspirations of the station to come out.
Little Raleigh Radio will initially send its signal over the Internet, but in speaking to the founders, it’s evident they look forward to the very first crackle of static that will radiate from a station built by its listeners — a hum that will embody the fulfillment of a dream. Reid and Downey want to create something sustainable, something that will last and serve as a model for others who look to give a platform to previously silent voices. The online broadcast will start by October and FM broadcast will most likely be in Spring/Summer of 2013. The FM broadcast is pending when the FCC opens the filing window.
There will be challenges, but if dreams were as easy as dreaming they wouldn’t instill in the dreamers the romantic notions of far-off images, like a storefront DJ booth somewhere downtown at which passersby can stop and see something built with them in mind, a place calling their stories into the air, stories that will travel up to 7 miles, and maybe even 10 on the clearest of Raleigh nights.
More info over at Little Raleigh Radio's website.
You can also donate money to Little Raleigh Radio's Kickstarter here.