Project Aims to Reignite Radio-- The Temple News

A Local Group Aims to Reclaim Radio Airwaves.
by Amber Clay 16 April 2013

Prometheus Radio Project is a group for those who are alien to radio.

Prometheus is a nonprofit organization that helps build and support low-power FM stations, which function on 100-watts or lower and spans from a 3-to-10 mile radius. The range varies with the topography of the area; a signal will go further in a leveled or rural area. Julia Wierski, the director of development and communications at Prometheus, explained the process of LPFM radio stations.

“When you think about what wattage is, it’s kind of what you would look at on a light bulb,” Wierski said. “A 100-watt radio station is kind of, like, off that scale. It’s operating on a little bit more power than what a regular household would…with a further reach.”

Even though low FM radio operates on a lower wattage count than a full-powered radio station, like Q102, people can still expect to hear the same quality they are used to.

“There’s nothing you would pick up on in terms of how it would sound on your radio,” Wierski said. “The wattage only deals with how far the signal goes, not the quality or sound.”

Prometheus Radio Project was started by radio lovers in October 1998. The group of enthusiasts was interested in lobbying the FCC to open more frequencies for low-power radio. For the last 13 years, Prometheus worked as a policy advocacy group, which resulted in the Local Community Radio Act’s passage in January 2011. This allows LPFM radios to apply for licenses with the FCC, and Prometheus will be able to help get them on the air.

Prometheus Radio Project believes in “freeing the airwaves from corporate control.” Ultimately, Prometheus wants to broaden the LPFM movement.

“Our goal is to help the communities that don’t have access to the air right now and to own a piece of media in their town,” Wierski said.

This October, community groups and nonprofits will be able to apply for a station.

“We’re doing our last push to let people know what they need to apply,” Wierski said.

Beyond all of the policy work, Prometheus helps form community radio stations with a process it calls barn raising. This is in tribute to the Amish social tradition where the community assists in building a barn for one or more households. In Prometheus’ case, a group goes to a town that has LPFM licensing to help build the station and to run training workshops ultimately to get the broadcast running. The barn raising process is not limited to a specific area, Prometheus has helped 12 communities across the country start their own stations and it’s also worked with other groups internationally.

Wierski said these events also involve tours that let communities know about the barn raising opportunity, with the most recent one being a southeast tour in November 2012.

“It culminates this very joyous occasion, because at the end of the weekend we get to flip the switch and turn it on for the first time,” Wierski said. “It’s very exciting stuff.”

Recently, Prometheus has been to the Media Reform, a national conference that is held biannually. This is where it has the opportunity to hold workshops and discussions about its movement in addition to taking the next step with policies.

Prometheus’ main goals are to give communities an influence among themselves and to speak out about the events that are going on around the group.

“You’re not always represented,” Wierski said. “What’s good about community is you are able to hear another person’s side of the story.”

Amber Clay can be reached at amber.clay@temple.edu.

[Correction 4/28, 3:15 p.m.: The Temple News incorrectly quoted a word by Julia Wierski. The article has been updated to reflect the correction.]