Community radio in Lake County was born on a shivering cold evening in late November of 1995. Three or four radio aficionados* gathered around a wood stove in Clearlake Oaks to discuss forming a local, public, non-commercial radio station. Had they known what lay ahead – the difficulties, the obstacles, the David vs. Goliath odds, the various incarnations – they might have been better off adjourning to a warm pub and forgetting their plans. But in their naivité they made their pledges to each other, and set in motion a ten year journey that is now on the brink of fulfillment.
The founders were concerned about certain trends in the media in the United States: Corporate radio was centralizing and consolidating the medium, as well as commercializing opinions and culture. Canned DJs and limited automated play lists from New York skyscrapers were dictating the listening habits for the rest of the country. Where were the local points of view and expression of local culture? Where was local ownership? Where were the unheard voices, the racial, sexual, cultural, and gender diversity, the alternative news, opinions, information, and music, especially from their own community of Lake County? Where was the opportunity to hear from friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens? A glance at history, said that those voices had not always been shut out in America.
Up until 1934, you could sit around a wood stove and start a radio station. But those pioneering days had been gone for sixty years. Back then, in the first third of the twentieth century radio in America had been wide-open. There was no regulation. If a person or organization wanted to start a radio station, well, he/she/it started a radio station. Democratically inspired stations sprang up all over the dial – originating from schools, churches, towns, cities, and community organizations.
But the burgeoning electronic form had too many possibilities to be ignored by the powers that be, and in that year of 1934, the Federal Communication Commission was established to regulate radio. In reality, that meant turning the birthing medium over to commercialized interests (unlike most European nations, where government supported/public radio won the day). From that moment forward, you had to have a ticket, better known as a license, to participate. And like all licenses, whether one to fish or drive, you had to pay the price and follow the rules to get it. Large commercial radio networks (CBS, NBC, ABC) naturally followed because they could pay the price and follow the rules. Still, there were concerns among the country’s leaders that radio should be kept competitive, so the law limited one radio station per company in each market. And that rule held for sixty years.
* George Breunig, Andy Weiss, Dallas Cook