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Community Broadcaster: Beyond Seattle, LPFM Shines

The New York Times prompts appreciation for revolutionary stations

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly

Last weekend, the New York Times offered a fantastic look at the growth of low-power FM community radio in the Seattle, Wash., area. It is the second article on LPFM that the Times has done in the last few months (the previous one was in October). You never want to turn down this sort of attention. The Times has a huge audience, and the more times you can alert someone to stations in their literal backyards, the better. The phenomenon the Times reflects on deserves a second look, too.

Seattle is certainly a special case and special city. Not only do you have a lively independent arts, culture and media scene that enables low-power FM outlets like KVRU(LP) and KMGP(LP) to flourish, but there is KEXP(FM), a large public media organization passionate about LPFM and offering material as well as moral support for these organizations. Where there have been tensions between organizations in other places, Seattle has been an outstanding example of how a successful collaborative spirit can flourish and benefit a city.

My only quibble with the New York Times is that low-power FM is shining not only in Seattle, but in cities and towns across America. Seattle is undoubtedly someplace to be thrilled about. However, make no mistake: LPFM is a wonderful presence across the nation.

If the writeup piqued your interest, I highly encourage you to check out low-power FM happening not just in Seattle, but across the United States.

WRIR(LP) is almost as far as you could get from Seattle on the continental United States — Richmond, Va., in fact — but has just as much spirit. Its blend of local public affairs and music will give you a sense of Virginia that is truly hard to find anywhere else. To the southwest, AshevilleFM has been cooking up an award-winning blend of programming for its North Carolina town. It has a wonderful vibe you seldom get from radio anymore.

Speaking of North Carolina, WCOM(LP) is celebrating more than a decade on the air by showing digital strategies aren’t just for huge stations. It has many podcast and broadcast options for you to enjoy.

California’s KDRT(LP) is employing a similarly innovative approach to local and regional programming. And finally on the digital front, KDPI(LP) in Idaho presents a standalone online experience, with its live performances and interviews given marquee status, rather than as broadcast clippings. Considering how much audio audiences are consuming, thanks to the smart speaker uptick, Ketchum’s best-kept secret is showing lots of far bigger stations the way to go.

Takoma Park, Md.’s WOWD(LP) and Arlington’s WERA(LP) are literally a train ride apart, but together offer their region some high-quality shows. What you will discover with these intriguing stations is how each involves a diverse range of voices from the area. Living in the establishment media shadow of Washington, D.C., these LPFMs’ programming is a beacon of joy.

In New York state, WRFA(LP) is formulating one of the more unique mixes, featuring not only local music and conversation, but also popular public radio shows such as “Left, Right and Center” and programming with local representatives. Not far from the same longitude, WADR(LP) is also forging a lot of community teamwork, relying on relationships over massive budgets and doing so splendidly.

If you check me on Twitter, you will catch me often referencing the smart, eclectic programming over at Nashville’s WXNA(LP). The Tennessee outpost is uncommonly interesting to hear at all hours of the day and night, with truly arresting DJs and intelligent selections. Tennessee also boasts WBCM(LP), which offers a classic country and Americana sound from the town of Bristol. One state to the north, Louisville’s WXOX(LP) presents among the most creative free-form blends in the LPFM universe.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Wimberley Valley Radio has one of the more fun local morning programs, along with regional favorites and local talk. Go north a few states and you will discover KETO(LP), serving Aurora, Colo.’s immigrant communities. It is one of the more engaging LPFM projects today, and worth a listen.

Then there are the stations serving communities that simply don’t have the media choices bigger areas have, such as Radio Bilingue’s crucial network of low-power FMs serving farmworkers and Spanish-language communities; the American River Folk Society’s KFOK(LP); and California’s KOYT(LP), which has recovered from being off the air to serve its small town. These are the unsung voices among many that nevertheless provide a tremendous service.

Space does not permit mentioning what could be literally scores of other stations doing important programming. Those Seattle outlets mentioned by the New York Times are incredible. In addition, there are thousands of low-power FM stations in all 50 states. Spend a bit of time in the powerful LPFM ecosystem for an engaging look at what remarkable radio is and can become.