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FCC Commissioner Visits Opelousas

A bipartisan majority in Congress passed this law as an attempt to fight the nation’s growing media consolidation and a lack of content diversity.

Major companies’ purchase of more and more previously local radio station often silenced unique voices and cultures. In many cases the new corporate owners would set all their stations to play the same program whether the broadcast was heard in California or New York.

Because of the Community Radio Act, hyper-local stations such as KOCZ are getting a new lease on life.

By assigning new frequencies to these stations, they no longer occupy the more crowded portions of the AM and FM radio bands.

New, lower frequencies have also created an explosion of local community radio stations such as KOCZ. Because each station covers only a limited range, dozens of stations can share the same frequency in different localities throughout the nation.

“There are now 15,000 more low-power stations than before. And not just in the United States. The word is getting out,” said Tyrone Glover, the station’s manager. “A community-based radio station is the easiest way to get the news out. It is all about serving your community.”

Rosenworcel said she was already in Louisiana to attend an event in New Orleans, and she wanted to see one of these stations first hand.

She said she has studied these stations. Showing up, though, is special.

“It was exciting. You could feel the energy of all those volunteers and how important it is to them to put it on the air every day,” she said of KOCZ, which is run almost entirely by volunteer disc jockeys, engineers and more.

“We are living in a world of expanding online global content. But there is still something special about local radio that speaks to the heart and soul of a community,” Rosenworcel said.

KOCZ went all out to make its special visitor feel at home. Local Zydeco musician Leon Chavis played for her and “The Zydeco Baller,” a local Zydeco dance team, taught her a line dance shuffle.

Rosenworcel even enjoyed local delicacies including alligator. “That was good,” she said. “It was my first time.”

She also invited Chavis to visit Washington, D.C., and assured him there is a market for Zydeco in the nation’s capital.

Zydeco and Justice: Louisiana’s Hyperlocal KOCZ Builds Community and Self-Reliance

The many possibilities for low-power FM radio are inspiring. KOCZ Opelousas Community Radio in southern Louisiana celebrates local culture like zydeco, the accordion-and-washboard dance music rooted in the area’s Creole, French, and African American heritage. It also covers local politics—it’s the first radio station owned by a civil rights organization. In Northampton, Mass., WXOJ Valley Free Radio started broadcasting a program during the Occupy movement that continues to update listeners on local protests, groups, and larger issues. The program’s name? “Occupy the Airwaves,” of course.

The studio at KOCZ. Photo by Freddie Herpin

Communities need access to community media for cohesion, safety, and economic self-reliance. Sometimes gaining that access is an uphill struggle. While corporations pressured Congress to restrict licenses for low-power FM radio stations, free media groups—most notably Prometheus Radio Project—lobbied for more than a decade for greater community access to nonprofit broadcasting.

That finally resulted in a breakthrough with the 2011 Local Community Radio Act. Small, underserved or marginalized communities got their chance at the airwaves when the FCC granted 1,000 low-power FM broadcasting licenses earlier this year. New stations have 18 months to raise funds and purchase equipment. Once on air, these nonprofit stations will have 100 watts of broadcasting power, enough to reach audiences within a radius of three to 10 miles.


Photo by Jacobito / Flickr.


(Credits: Christine St. Pierre)