UPDATE: (03/29/12) Mr. Knighten is eligible to have his charges dropped in exchange for 20 hours of community service.
Last month police and federal agents raided activist Albert Knighten's home and arrested him. His crime? Operating a pirate radio station out of his spare bedroom. Now the retired Navy air traffic controller faces a felony charge for operating the station without a license — a charge that could land him behind bars for five years. It's the latest incident to highlight the need for community control of media, specifically the important role that low-power radio stations can play in communities of color.
It's an issue that's been on ColorOfChange's radar for a while. We were part of the coalition that helped pass the Local Community Radio Act last year, a major piece of legislation that will ensure that people like Knighten are no longer sanctioned for bringing relevant news and information to their neighbors. Unfortunately for him, the bill is just now being implemented. His station was ahead of its time. From the article:
Operating out of his small house in the hard-scrabble Dunbar neighborhood with a 40-foot antenna affixed to the roof, Knighten, 44, programmed his station with an eclectic mix of public-affairs shows, neighborhood announcements, old-school R&B tunes and even church services, geared toward the elderly and others who can't afford or don't use the Internet.
"The station made people feel like they had a chance to express their opinion and have a voice in their tomorrow," said Willie Green, who heads a three-county southwest Florida chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
No one disputes the station was on the air illegally, but Knighten said it was worth the risk. He started in 2009 with the hope he could eventually apply for a license. He wanted to get it up and running legally. Now, because of the arrest, he won't be allowed to apply for the license or operate the station, although he still hopes to be involved.
If someone does resurrect Dunbar Radio 107.5 as a licensed station, it will likely be because of the Local Community Radio Act – a law passed in 2010 that repealed certain restrictions on the FM spectrum put in place at the urging of commercial channels worried about interference with their broadcasts. Simply put, the government opened up more slots on the crowded dial in urban areas for low-powered stations after studies showed it could be done without stepping on established channels.
Prometheus Radio Project fought for the law for a decade. The group's policy director, Brandy Doyle, said it could more than double the current number of around 800 low-powered stations in the country and help diversify radio markets in an era when corporate-owned stations dominate the airwaves. New stations are expected to debut in 2013 and 2014.
People of color make up one-third of the United States population, but only own 7% of all commercial radio stations. That's why ColorOfChange and our allies are committed to seizing the opportunity presented by the passage of this new legislation. Earlier this month, ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson participated in a discussion about the best way to build community radio in communities of color. Listen to or watch the event to learn more.