What’s community radio?
Community radio is media for the community that the radio station serves. It can take many forms, such as music, talk or variety programming. Community media’s educational vision and nonprofit mission primarily define it.
Where community radio is, what community radio is
You can find community media in the United States everywhere. The core values of localism, collective impact, diversity, excellence and leadership inform community radio.
Community media provides a place in media for rural and urban cities and towns to share their voices and their stories.
Local radio stations may serve as an opportunity for youth to learn media literacy and leadership skills. Community media can often be a crucial local venue of creative expression, such as musical performance, drama/theater and the arts. In supporting the local production of content, community radio can offer classes and workshops for area residents to learn writing, technical skills and teamwork.
Noncommercial radio defined
In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has two different radio categories, commercial and noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters. Commercial radio is something you have heard on the AM and FM dial.
The FCC requires nonprofit organizations to run noncommercial educational (NCE) radio stations. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes 29 types of nonprofit organizations. 501(c)(3) is one type of nonprofit. Community radio stations, which fit the noncommercial educational (NCE) designation, are generally led by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
The FCC oversees radio stations’ broadcast signal reach, including low-power FM (LPFM), which is intended to serve neighborhoods and intimate communities. The FCC also oversees full-power outlets, which can at times broadcast hundreds of miles. Low-power FM (LPFM) and full-power stations operated by nonprofit organizations are, by most accounts, noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters.
Radio stations have various nomenclatures beyond the commercial and noncommercial category. Some of these classifications are regulatory. Radio formats are self-identification internal to organizations, which in turn becomes an external relationship with the audience.
In commercial radio, listeners experience these categories as formats. There are conservative talk radio stations; liberal talk radio formats; sports talk shows; rock radio of various kinds, such as classic rock, alternative and heavy metal; hip-hop music stations; many varieties of country music, such as country oldies, pop country and others; and Spanish-language music programming, including regional Mexican and reggaeton.
For noncommercial educational (NCE) radio, formatting can sometimes be about structure. Two terms many people have heard before include religious broadcasters and public radio. The definition of noncommercial educational (NCE) radio fits for both, according to the FCC. However, like their commercial counterparts, in content, engagement, programming, form and function, the types of noncommercial educational (NCE) media are quite different.
Community radio formats
Community media is distinct in that they’re nonprofits that include local volunteer DJs who host many kinds of programs. Volunteers wholly staff some community radio stations. Other community radio utilizes a mix volunteers and paid staff.
Programming formats in community radio vary. At times, community radio stations may opt to do a particular music format, such as jazz, alternative rock or freeform, which includes all music genres permitted within a broadcast hour. In other instances, community media organizations may divide up their broadcast week for volunteer hosts to do specialty shows tailored to the individual DJ’s interests. A local DJ may host a particular specialty program for a period of time, only to be followed by another volunteer, who does something else, at such radio stations.
Community radio’s sound
“Community radio has made authenticity part of what it is — voices from your neighborhood who aren’t the silky-voiced disc jockey, but rather the people who you know and who you trust will value your city like you do,” writes Ernesto Aguilar. This medium has different accents, mannerisms and textures. Community media finds its strength in its diversity.
Some people may criticize community media for not sounding like commercial radio. However, this kind of local radio is more defined by programming that is expressed in a conversational voice.Toward its vision, such media believes our community is knowledgeable. These outlets seek to appeal to local values.
Community radio history
Community media in the United States traces its history back to the 1920s, according to researcher Michael Huntsberger.
In those early days, schools, unions and social organizations are among those groups that would operate radio stations that served their communities. The National Federation of Community Broadcasters was founded in 1978 to facilitate community radio stations working together and to provide a unified voice in Washington, DC, which had yet to recognize community radio at that time.
Why community radio?
Whether it is local journalism, storytelling, live events, music discovery or the examination of cultural meaning, community media is a vital local institution for community and civic life to interact. With few resources and staff, stations depend on local relationships and ingenuity. Community media relies on passion and innovation to survive and to thrive.
Local stations are independent. They provide opportunities to hear unique music, to talk about local affairs of the day, and to appreciate regional history and culture. Community media is a gathering place for cities and towns across the United States. It represents local voices. Community media helps amplify those individuals beyond our communities and to the world. Stations offer something to be proud of in your city.
Community radio engages people and perspectives that may not be as well served by legacy media outlets as community media can offer. Community media complements democracy.