KRUU and Sustainable, Local Media

Morgan Flores

December 1, 2011

Over the summer, I received a ‘random’ Facebook message from a friend of mine, Todd Urick, who I knew back in my community media days in Davis, California. Todd was incredulous in wondering if I lived in the same Fairfield, Iowa as the solar-powered local low power FM radio station KRUU 100.1 that he had been helping from across the country. I replied, that Yes! I now live in Fairfield, and we began talking about his involvement with KRUU. I was amazed at the synergistic connecting power of the internet and how people of similar values and interests tend to channel themselves into similar currents of human life, and the loci of the currents–the particular positions–tend to be wonderful little cities like Davis, California and Fairfield, Iowa. Cities that attract people who want to create positive change in the world, by providing a fertile and nourishing environment, the conditions through which to encourage progressive creativity.

I lived in Davis for probably the total of a decade of my life before leaving the town in 2006. Back then, I was never once aware of the word “sustainability.” I was interested in this big idea of community media, and how it serves a purpose in providing avenues for true free speech, expression and community development. Now that I’ve been studying sustainability and media at MUM for close to a year, I have been seeing how sustainability calls for the redefining of all aspects of life, including media.

I decided to use this discovery of Todd’s and my connection with Fairfield to begin exploring the idea of what is local media, why is it important, and how does sustainability apply to something like media. I asked Todd some questions, and he gave me some very informative and illuminating answers.

1. Todd, please tell me about your involvement with KRUU 100.1 (in Fairfield, IA).

I first bumped into KRUU via their website, where I learned not only did the station run off solar power, but they were using open-source software and doing an amazing job at serving the community (better than some low power FM stations in larger cities).  I thought that with such great service they should be serving more of the region (currently they are at 100 watts).  I found there was an open 25,000 watt radio channel the FCC had opened in the vicinity for entities to apply for.  KRUU could not allocate the resources to apply for the channel since FCC applications are a risky proposition (you may invest a lot in the application process and it may yield nothing).  Anyhow, I believed so much in the station that I said that our nonprofit, Common Frequency, would provide the engineering and legal resources for an application.  That was in early 2010.  In mid-2011 the FCC selected their application for the radio channel–and one other–for a 50-50 share-time for the channel.  So we were successful, and currently the details are being worked out.

2. What is your history with community media?

I started a micropower FM station when I was in high school because I was dissatisfied with what was on the radio.  Later when I went to college I was manager at KDVS, a 9200 watt freeform FM station in Davis, CA [its station lives on the campus of UC Davis].  I became interested in starting radio stations in which the community could actually be a part of, or “community radio.”  I got together with my friend Jeff Shaw, who co-runs a local public access TV channel [Davis Media Access], and Sakura Saunders, who is media activist that is on the board of Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia, and we formed a nonprofit called Common Frequency.  In the last few years I have worked to license several new radio stations for grassroots/community use.  I mainly do engineering paperwork, but I have my nose in a lot of projects.  I am also attempting to form a network of radio stations to share grassroots programming.

3. Tell me about your non-profit and how it relates to community media.

There are very few outlets across the US in which ordinary people can get their voices out there on the airwaves.  Most people consume media (TV, radio, and now the internet) that is completely derived by corporate entities.  I think corporate lobbying and media disinformation campaigns are the big two reasons why democracy is failing.  I thought if we could somehow start free-speech radio stations in each city, we at least planted a seed in each community to provide the momentum we need for change.  I’m not talking about “progressive” radio stations, but stations that encourage local debate, centering on problem-solving instead of rhetoric and hate talk.  That local debate is missing on the corporate airwaves.  That, and new interesting music. So our nonprofit aims to license these new radio stations.  But its an uphill battle with some many larger/well-funded religious broadcast applicants, and the fact that Americans are not media literate (many do not understand the power of the media).

4. If a town wants to start their own LPFM, what do they do?

Email us!  There is an Low Power FM (LPFM) filing opportunity most likely in the fall of 2011.  This is when the FCC will open one week for nonprofits to apply for some of the last remaining open FM channels across the US.  Filling out an form will take some help of people who know what they are doing–especially if the FCC requires engineering exhibits.  So start now.

5. What do you think about “sustainability”? How would you define it? How do you see community media as being a sustainable form of media?

I think sustainability, in contemporary terms, is multifaceted in definition.  I think the definition has something to do with existing in balance in nature or society–or even, at the core, some type of higher moral consciousness.  I think activities rooted in mutual benefit are more enduring in nature, but within a capitalistic rubric, that is very hard to see sometimes–or may not even resonate with capitalism, or not even be fiscally enduring.  And that is the problematic side-effect of capitalism: fiscally sustainable doesn’t equate to true sustainability.  Community media is the commons where true democracy can flourish if moderated properly.  I think if you have an outlet for debate, the most rational ideas will rise to the surface.  In that aspect, thinking sustainably is a product of an education based upon learning how to reason and having access to information and many viewpoints.  Thus, community media encourages sustainable thinking.

6. Anything else you’d like to share?

Yeah, we always need people to help (volunteers).  This isn’t glamorous work–its hard work just like anything else.

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My thanks to Todd Urick for sharing his thoughts with us and his help to our local low-power radio station–KRUU 100.1. If you are at all interested in local radio, I encourage you to check out the station, and get involved!