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Radio Waves

Peace & Justice Center plans for low-power radio station.

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The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center is hoping to give a little more power to the people — literally.

The organization is in the process of securing a low-power FM radio station to be utilized in the city's urban areas, primarily North and South Memphis.

The organization hopes the low-powered radio station will give residents a chance to discuss issues the mainstream media may be ignoring. Additionally, they want the station to serve as a place for local artists to showcase their music.

Jacob Flowers, executive director of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, said the city needs a community-based news outlet that can provide an alternative to corporate media.

"Often we find big radio stations and national news networks don't want to cover the local issues happening in our communities except when something bleeds or there's some big crisis," Flowers said. "What low-power FM does is put the power of the news cycle back in the hands of the community."

Across the country, low-power FM stations are run by nonprofit organizations and broadcast at 100 watts or less, which reaches a radius of three to five miles. Full-powered radio stations broadcast up to 100,000 watts.

Low-power FM has been around for decades, primarily in rural areas, but the stations have been blocked from urban areas because of possible technical interference with full-power commercial stations.

That changed in January when President Barack Obama signed into law the Local Community Radio Act, which allows community radio stations to operate in urban areas.

U.S. representative Steve Cohen helped promote the act in communities across Tennessee. Cohen said he's always supported community radio because it gives citizens a voice and provides an opportunity for local musicians to be heard.

"I think we are getting too homogenized with too many big stations and pre-programmed formats, especially in a city like Memphis where you've got a history of independent music production and independent thinkers," Cohen said. "It's important to have an avenue of communication [that supports] cultural and artistic independence and freedom."

Flowers is excited about securing a low-power station because low-income and marginalized communities in Memphis currently have no voice on the city's corporate radio stations.

"The positive things happening in our communities don't bubble up to the top, and a lot of the negative things are not being exposed," Flowers said.

The Peace & Justice Center hopes to apply for a Federal Communications Commission license by spring, and they're working to secure grant funding to pay for the radio project. The proposed station would be manned by volunteers once it's up and running.

The center held a meeting to gauge interest in the station last week, and a second meeting is scheduled for October 13th at the Peace & Justice Center office inside First Congregational Church.

One attendee of last week's meeting, Mark Allen, said he worked for Memphis radio station WEVL (89.9 FM) in the 1970s and early 1980s when it was a low-power FM station. He saw the station transition from using 10 watts and having a three-mile radius, to 18,000 watts and having a radius that reached into surrounding states.

Allen said a low-power radio station would encourage people to pay more attention to issues in their communities.

"It's important to know what our neighbors are doing," Allen said. "We sit on our couch and watch TV instead of sitting on our porch. We need to know what's going on in our neighborhoods."

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