Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, September 03, 2007

"Hmong community snatches WNRB from the jaws of oblivion," September 4, 2007.

After just over a year in operation, WNRB community radio in central Wisconsin was shut down by its college sponsor. Local volunteers organized as the “Friends of WNRB” to save their station. World Report talks to Mike Cannon in Wasau, Wisconsin.

WNRB was just a year old when its academic sponsor pulled the plug and returned its license to the Federal Communications Commission or FCC.

Like so many things in the US, the licensing of community radio stations is more polarized politically than it is here.

Writing in Portland, Oregon's oldest alternative newspaper, the Portland Alliance, Abby Sewell gives a brief history of the low-powered fm radio movement in the US and the use of LPFM by the farmworkers union in Woodburn, Oregon.

In the US, the FCC is a government agency that licenses and regulates much as the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, the CRTC, does here.

In 2000, the FCC created a new class of stations, which have a broadcast range of two to four miles. Licenses for these stations, which are available only to non-profit groups and government agencies, are cheaper and simpler to apply for than traditional FM station licenses.

The FCC order led to over seven hundred applications for station licenses. That was too popular for the media giants in the land of the free.

Fearing the competition, mainstream media corporations and broadcasters lobbied the government, claiming that low-powered FM stations would interfere with their signals.

The US Congress responded by passing the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act, which limits low powered FM stations to rural areas with a less crowded radio spectrum.

Low-power FM transmitters have a lot of other applications. Here is an interesting story about the use of low-powered fm transmitters to reduce sound pollution from concerts in India.

WNRB is just such an independent, low-powered FM community radio station headquartered in Wasau, Wisconsin.

It is home to the Mike Cannon Show, which I happened to know about as one of the places where World Report is rebroadcast.

Wasau is nearly 400 km due south and across Lake Superior from Thunder Bay. If you know Wisconsin, it's north and a little west of Green Bay.

On August 29, Mike wrote me to say quote “as of today we now have a loop going and at least sound coming from our transmitter... we are pretty excited.”

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When I interviewed Mike Cannon last Thursday, he was someone I knew only from email. So I wanted to know more about him.

So the story has a happy ending. The license has been recovered and assigned to the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association (tax-exempt non-profit group advocating for Southeast Asians). They have a new studio, and the new programming year is starting up again as we speak, featuring a wide mix of locally produced content, along with rebroadcast of syndicated programs like Nelson's own World Report.

There's a lot more about the Hmong people on the internet.

According to Mike's blurb for Pacifica, WNRB represents two significant “firsts” in the annals of LPFM — the first such station to recover a surrendered license, and the first station operated under the aegis of a Southeast Asian organization.

Congratulations to Mike and the people of Wasau, Wisconsin. Long live WNRB. Something to celebrate for our own new season.

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