The sordid situation of Pacifica Radio took another turn last week, when the owners of the Empire State Building—where WBAI’s transmitter and antenna are located—threatened to pull the plug on the station. According to a report dated June 19th by Pacifica Foundation Interim Executive Director Bernard Duncan, rent payments from WBAI to the ESB for May and June were "returned indicating an imminent eviction."
I was recently invited to join a new national project devoted to archiving local radio history. It’s tentatively called the Radio Preservation Task Force, and it’s working under the purview of the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board (NPRB), in conjunction with the National Archives and several major broadcast museums.
The task force’s primary goal is "to develop strategies and tools to collect and preserve historical broadcast content"—more specifically, content from "public, educational, local, and regional radio" stations and organizations. In simple terms, ample archives exist of national radio and television broadcasts, particularly at the network level and on the commercial side of the dial. But there’s been no coherent preservation strategy beyond this, and that needs to be rectified.
Uh-oh, indeed. Pacifica’s National Board is now soliciting bids to take over the programming and operations of its station in New York City. WBAI is prime real estate, transmitting with 4,300 watts of power from atop the Empire State Building on a choice frequency smack dab in the middle of the FM dial. The station’s worth tens of millions of dollars were it ever to be sold.
This was a long time coming. WBAI, like many of Pacifica’s radio stations, is caught in the jaws of a dilemma as old as community radio itself. Essentially, people can lose sight of the actual goal of running a successful and sustainable community radio station and instead use (and abuse) the station as a battlefield on which to act out some larger sociopolitical struggle. What the station stands for becomes more important than the station itself, and nobody wins. In Pacifica’s case, they stand to lose it all.
If you missed it: last month Sprint made good on its commitment to provide analog FM radio reception in selected smartphones. More importantly, the NextRadio app developed by Emmis Communications to make it useful was formally released to the public.
The initial deal between Sprint and U.S. broadcasters calls for Sprint to sell 30 million FM radio-capable smartphones over the next three years, on which the NextRadio app will be preinstalled. In exchange, the radio industry will pay Sprint $15 million dollars a year in advertising inventory and give the carrier a 30% cut of any revenue NextRadio generates.
The Federal Communications Commission is busy preparing for an onslaught of applications for new low-power FM (LPFM) stations: the filing window opens on October 15th and closes on the 29th. Interested applicants should already be hard at work preparing, because building a radio station from scratch is not a simple process.