SeeksTo Take on the Bad Guys
By Edward Shanahan
With the Aug. 7 celebratory launching of Valley Free Radio under a big white tent pitched next to the former Florence Grammar School, Northampton acquires a new media voice.
Judging by the placards, rhetoric, music and audience that accompanied the station’s debut, the message of Valley Free Radio seemed to be something of a throwback to the 1960s anti-Vietnam war, civil rights, Woodstock, and Clamshell Alliance movements.
Yet the modern day buzz words – many of them delivered in Spanish – motivating the emergence of Valley Free Radio as an on-air local radio outlet are diversity and anti-globalism, laced with great cynicism about capitalism and its many abuses, largely as they relate to the U.S. media.
Those of us who despair about the increasing control of the media in fewer and fewer corporate hands, coupled with government deregulation of these corporations, say “bring on Valley Free Radio.”
It’s time to offer an antidote to the shrill, conservative, religion-driven media, which are less and less mainstream, and more and more right wing with often hostile attitude in their coverage of the communities they pretend to serve.
Getting Valley Free Radio on the air has taken time, money, and lots and lots of talk. In fact, the biggest surprise of all is that WXOJ-LP, a 100-watt licensed radio station was able to beat the October deadline it faced to start broadcasting or forfeit its hard-earned license.
The station, which has a studio in the basement of the former Florence Grammar School and an antenna out on Florence Road, is positioned at 103.3 on the FM band.
Commercial-free, the non-profit community station is the result of scores of local activists joining forces with the Media Education Foundation on Masonic Street, which holds the license.
The expectation is that the station can provide alternative programming in sharp contrast to the formulaic and trivializing programming that dominates corporate-owned media the length and breadth of this country, even in the Five College area.
Local and regional radio stations in our small chunk of the valley are for the most part mere links in radio chains, including WHMP and WRSI in Northampton, as well as stations in Greenfield and Springfield, which are all owned by the same out-of-state company.
The station got off to a satisfying start with a mean, but very funny radio play putting down the excesses of the Clear Channel radio goliath and the inept and often complicitous Federal Communications Commission. And then there were personal greetings from representatives of other alternative stations, such as Pacifica Radio and the Prometheus Radio Project. It’s almost a movement, as Arlo Guthrie would say. And the local Raging Grannies got a chance to sing on air the praises of Valley Free Radio.
So there is plenty of excitement and enthusiasm about the emergence of a fresh new local voice that might not be cowed by advertisers or owners. The challenge, of course, will be to come up with the quantity, depth and variety of programming to truly tell the story of the valley in all its aspects. Getting the community to take advantage of access to Valley Free Radio’s air waves will require an enormous volunteer commitment by local citizens from across the political, cultural, racial and economic spectrum.
We have only the example of the woeful experience of Northampton’s local access cable television channel to realize that just having broadcasting access does not perforce result in broadcasting success.
And, from my standpoint, I hope the focus of Valley Free Radio is trained mainly on local community issues, personalities, and institutions, rather than allowing itself to be too global in its outlook.
At the Aug. 7 launch, speakers described the role of Valley Free Radio as being to educate, inspire and entertain. A worthy challenge, but also let’s think local because that is where the need is greatest for more information by various sectors of the population - media consumers who are ignored by the advertising-driven, profit-motivated stations, including the local public radio and television outlets, which, under government pressure, move ever to the right.
Of course, it will be difficult at the outset to fill a broadcasting day solely with locally-produced material prepared by volunteers. Thus, some non-local syndicated programming is to be expected, especially if it enlarges the perspective of valley listeners by presenting new ideas and previously unreported events from unusual non-traditional news sources.
Yet the greatest potential for Valley Free Radio is for the steady task of covering and uncovering issues that have an impact on people in this valley that have routinely been overlooked or discredited by the “mainstream” media, despite their cynical pretense of “serving” their readers, viewers and listeners.
Present at the creation when the station went on the air in our living room, we’ll keep tuning in and hope for the best, which can’t be nearly as bad as its competition.
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