Nine Reasons Your Labor Organization Needs a Radio Station—and How to Get One

UPDATE, October 23: Because of the federal shutdown, the deadline to apply for a spot on the FM radio dial has been extended to November 14.

1. It’s possible. In October 2013, the FCC will open a window for unions and community organizations to apply for Low-Power FM (LPFM) licenses to broadcast up to 100 watts—enough to reach an area seven to 20 miles in diameter, depending on the terrain.

2. It’s cheap. The application itself is free, and an engineering study costs as little as $100-$3,000. If your application is approved, a station can be built for as little as $10,000, or even less if you can get equipment donated. You’ll have at least a year to raise the money. It’s a worthwhile investment.

3. Workers listen to radio. Every week 241.3 million Americans listen to radio. This includes more than 93 percent of the population over age 12, and 90 percent of those ages 12-24. Contrary to popular belief, radio listenership has increased in the 21st century, rising by 4.9 percent from 2005 to 2011.

4. The 1% dominate the airwaves. Since deregulation of media ownership in 1996, two corporations—ClearChannel (owned by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital) and Cumulus—have come to control 42 percent of radio stations in the United States, broadcasting anti-worker propaganda from coast to coast. Less than 7 percent are owned by women or minorities, and community stations remain a rarity. As consolidation continues, the voices of women, people of color, immigrants, workers, and other oppressed groups are further marginalized. The 99% can reclaim the airwaves with LPFM radio.

5. There’s lots of help available. If you’d like to apply for a station, or just need more information, you can contact Prometheus Radio Project here. If you’d like to network with other labor organizations going through the application process and be involved in developing programming, you can join the emerging LPFM for workers initiative at COMMRAD.iO.

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6. Community radio is an organizing tool. Radio stations have played a crucial role in many major social movements since the invention of radio, from the strikes of the 1930s to the 2006 teachers strike in Oaxaca, Mexico. In the U.S., farmworker organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and PCUN have integrated radio into their organizing, using their broadcasts to promote protest rallies, educate listeners on how to fight wage theft, and even coordinate disaster response. Labor radio programs on community stations across the country report the real stories of local struggles the corporate media usually ignore or misrepresent. With new stations, independent labor media can reach new audiences.

7. It’s available. Frequencies are open in many major cities and most rural areas. Your broadcast could reach thousands or even millions of ears.

8. If you don’t, the bosses will. When the FCC opened up a window to apply for the last remaining spots on the dial for full-power FM stations in 2007, right-wing groups mobilized to gobble up as many frequencies as possible. Let’s make sure we get more workers’ voices on the air this time, not more Rush Limbaugh clones.

9. It’s our last chance. This will be the final opportunity to apply for broadcast licenses in the United States. Applications will be due this October, so act now to take advantage of this historic opportunity to put the labor movement on the air. Get in touch with COMMRAD.iO or Prometheus Radio Project to find out more and get the application process started!

Erik Forman has been active in the Industrial Workers of the World since 2005, working and organizing at Starbucks and Jimmy John’s. He is currently compiling a report on union strategies for organizing the food service and retail sectors as a Practitioner Fellow at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, to be released this spring. Follow him at