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Community Broadcaster: Community Media Day Offers a Chance to Unify

October 20 brings attention to community radio and TV efforts

Community Media Day is almost here, offering radio another chance to share its story.

Founded in 2015, Community Media Day is intended to unite locally based radio and television in celebrating communities. This is a big ecosystem, which includes community radio as well as PEG (public-access, educational and governmental) television stations and dual licensees of TV and radio. There are many differences undoubtedly. PEG stations have a wide variety of models, with many seeing challenges as franchise fees change as part of a larger media disruption overtaking us. As one of the older forms of media, though, radio is no stranger to adversity. Community radio has had to overcome difficulties for generations.

Beyond these commonalities, community radio and TV invite area residents into their facilities, providing a vital conduit for culture in cities and towns, not to mention for democracy itself.

Community Media Day falls on October 20. This day was reportedly chosen specifically because it falls during Free Speech Week. While you have no doubt heard of Free Speech Week through recent national controversies, it is in fact a yearly event to raise public awareness of the importance of free speech in our democracy, and to observe that freedom at work in our daily lives.

In this regard, community radio and television have a lot to be proud of. What other media organizations give opportunities to young people to learn crucial media skills and get media training to which they would otherwise never have access? Where else can our local creative talents share arts, discussion and ideas in a broadcast format? Where big media corporations are looking to retreat from many cities, community media looks to expand and deepen its roots. Turn on community media and you’ll see local election debates, faith communities and the diversity of voices that make up America on full display. The kind of window to the world community media creates in many cities is truly a splendid thing.

Given all the rancor in the country right now — where Americans increasingly say they are unhappy with the political tone in the United States — Community Media Day offers not just a time to appreciate community media. This October 20 might just be the time to reflect that our nation’s needs. As a nonpartisan observance, Community Media Day’s organizers say it is aimed at being a unifying celebration. Such is welcome amid the rage churn of our current news cycle, surely.

Taking this time to offer a hopeful message may also be more than a matter of principle for community media. Our futures may depend on it.

For so many community media outposts, this time of year is important for growth and fundraising. The aforementioned franchise fee issues are a harbinger of uncertain times for PEG television. Pledge drives that sustain community radio are in full swing in many regions. Community media leaders are a resilient bunch, who are responsive to local needs. These leaders know cities and towns today need the stability and compassion community media provides. Telling that story effectively may mean a bigger base and a brighter tomorrow.

A recent Gallup poll indicates that, after seven years of declines, Americans’ trust in one another rebounded somewhat this year. The shifting economic and political tides, Gallup says, has directly impacted citizens’ confidence in the judgment of other Americans’ decision-making. In spite of post-election tensions, people’s belief in our collective choices has only galvanized.

Still, at 62%, Americans’ belief in the American people’s decisions remains far lower than previous years, such as 2005, when it was at 76%. One can surmise trust is centered in part on knowing one another better and having a more harmonious civic life, which only blossoms through learning and listening. As such, community media is the town square the country needs right now.

Can your community radio station answer the calling of Community Radio Day?

Community Media Day’s conveners invite community media organizations to submit their events now to be listed in the national calendar. Groups like the Alliance for Community Media and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters are rallying member stations to participate. And, of course, there will be social media. You can use the hashtag #CommunityMediaDay. If you haven’t planned to yet, please consider participating this year.