WFHB Community Radio's history is a lesson in the political economy of U.S. broadcasting, a case study in media activism.
A handful of community radio enthusiasts spent the better part of two decades dealing with lawyers, engineers, and a less than cooperative Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to acquire a broadcast license. It's a long and complex story, one that is testament to collective action, community organizing, and one town's profound desire for an alternative to the commercial and public broadcasters serving Bloomington and south-central Indiana.
A listener-supported station, WFHB relies on money raised by twice-yearly fund drives, local business underwriting, and special events for its operating capital. What keeps the station on the air, however, are the concerted efforts of a small paid staff and a legion of volunteer programmers, engineers, producers, and community journalists.
WFHB's approach to broadcasting owes a great deal to the tradition of community radio pioneered by KPFA, the flagship station of the Pacifica Radio Network. Founded in the late 1940s by journalist and conscientious objector Lew Hill, Pacifica's "brash experiment" challenged the wisdom, let alone the desirability, of a media system dominated by commercial interests.
Hill and his associates vividly demonstrated the value of broadcasting as a social practice. KPFA's studios were a meeting place for speakers to discuss important issues of the day -- McCarthyism, the nuclear arms race, civil rights, press freedoms -- and a community resource to support local talent, explore the world's music, and revel in the creative, educational and communal possibilities of radio: the so-called "invisible medium."
Pacifica radio's unbridled enthusiasm for radio activity inspired the community radio movement across the United States and, arguably, around the world.
With WFHB (91.3 & 98.1 FM), we are truly blessed with a community resource that showcases the extraordinary talents of area musicians, writers, poets, journalists, and music enthusiasts. For instance, Monday through Friday, morning and afternoon mix programmers play everything under the sun -- from alt. country to country blues, acid jazz to Dixieland, hip hop to do wop. Weeknights and weekends are the domain for specialty shows featuring music of a particular region, culture, style or genre.
Got a hankering for country/western and rhythm and blues? Check out "Rhythm Ranch" and "The Dark End of the Street." Bluegrass and Old Time Music fans need look no further than the Saturday morning line-up, featuring Farmers Jam, Roots for Breakfast, Old Time Train 45, and Rural Routes. And for jazz aficionados, WFHB has got you covered with perennial favorites Baker's Dozen, All That Jazz, and The Jazz Suite. Finally, programs such as Planetary Caravan, Reggae Children, Hora Latino, and The Old Changing Way bring music from around the world to our little town.
Syndicated programs include staples of U.S. community radio, such as Alternative Radio, E-Town, New Dimensions Radio, Earthsongs, and Free Speech Radio News. And as noted in The Bloomington Alternative (5/1/05), listener demands for Democracy Now! have, at long last, brought Amy Goodman's daily newscast to the local airwaves.
The addition of DN! to the program schedule bodes well for the WFHB's news and public affairs initiative. A model for community-oriented journalism, DN! will contribute to the development of locally produced news and public affairs, including bloomingOUT, Hola Bloomington, and the Daily Local News.
By their nature, news and public affairs programs are time and labor intensive -- if you've got a taste for community journalism, volunteering for these programs is one more way to support your community radio station.
Based on reader response, I'd like to tie up a few loose ends:
Win-Win... Three cheers to Kerasotes for a entering into a successful and rewarding partnership with the Ryder Film Series and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Recent screenings of Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and Gunner Palace were great successes.
Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...
Overlooked ... WME3tv is a videozine originating from here in Bloomington that runs on CATS (channel 3) and IU campus channel 41. In the past, WME3tv has covered G-8 protests at the Kelley School of Business and profiled the Pages to Prisoners Project operating out of Box Car Books...
Across the Aisle ... Liberals and progressives aren't the only one's producing and distributing independent media. Films and videos, such as Fahrenhype911, a response to the Michael Moore film, have been screened in town to receptive crowds...
Looking Ahead ... From the producers of Hijacking Catastrophe comes a sequel of sorts, Hijacking Democracy. This film will be shown at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Friday, September 30th. Robert Jensen of the University of Texas, Austin, who appears in the film, will be on hand to discuss this latest project from the Media Education Foundation.
Kevin Howley teaches Media Studies at DePauw University. His new book, Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies, published by Cambridge University Press, features a chapter on WFHB.