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The Amazing Power, Purpose and History of Community Radio

As you look back to the origin of radio in the 1910s and 1920s, it was 100% focused on community. Fast forward to 2022 and radio, like TV, the Internet, and all media has been largely co-opted and dominated by non-local interests (to be kind as I'm not out to roast anything or one here). But Community Radio continues to survive and thrive against these headwinds and a great example is the home of Mateo's Magic Bus, KFFR-FM 88.3, in Winter Park, CO.

KFFR DJs, Supporters and Staff Celebrating a Great Fall Membership Drive at the KFFR Open House Finale

All of the DJs are volunteers, along with an incredible cadre of community support via donors, sponsors and foot soldiers who have helped the station grow and thrive from its modest roots. Starting an AM or FM radio station is no easy task - as there are numerous federal, state and local regulations that must be abided by to reach full fledged broadcast status.

As the airwaves are deemed public property by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there is an incredible array of regulations that must be followed and these rules continue to this day since the beginnings of radio and the Communications Act of 1934. The 1934 Act established the FCC and much of the telecommunications and broadcasting framework (TV and radio) that we still operate under as a country to this day - excepting the Internet, which is not regulated under the same public auspices as broadcasting.

KFFR DJs Skindog, Mateo, Foz, and Jessica on a remote broadcast at KFFR underwriter, Fraser Distilling

In the case of KFFR, it was one passionate person, Denis Moynihan, alongside a group of intrepid funders, community members and seasoned veterans like Steve Skinner (Current Station Director and aka DJ Skindog) who willed the station into being starting back in the 2015 timeframe. When you're driving into Grand County and tune to the incredible programming and DJs on KFFR (free of corporate influence, playing whatever they wish), it took nothing short of a herculean effort from this crew, who had to get the tower, infrastructure and so much in place to set the table for this throwback to the origin of radio, of, by and for the community it serves first. In addition to the broadcast signal, which is limited by the FCC, the Internet takes our broadcasts anywhere on earth as well.

In the Booth: DJ Todd and DJ Skindog during the KFFR VIP Open House Membership Drive closing event

In the past weeks, KFFR held its first annual Fall Membership Drive & in the span of a week we nearly doubled the number of evergreen / sustainable (monthly) supporters that we had enlisted up to that point. An amazing affirmation and response as the team took to the road and did a series of remote broadcasts from around Grand County over the week of the Membership Drive.

As many think of radio for music and/or news, Community Radio actually also serves as critical community infrastructure, harkening back, again, to its original founding roots in the 29102 and 1920s. For instance, during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, KFFR station director and DJ, Steve Skinner and others worked tirelessly to keep the community informed and safe while much of the world was on lockdown, resulting in a major award and acknowledgment from the Colorado Broadcasting Association. Another example is during the tragic 2021 Troublesome Fires, which wreaked havoc across Grand County (home of KFFR) and the region & where the pain is still be felt. KFFR was a key community asset helping to distribute updates, information as well as helping to heal the community with information and helping to hold fundraisers for the victims.

A publicity photo of Genie Chance - Smithsonian Magazine and courtesy of Jan Blankenship

Ending on this amazing story of the power of Community Radio, which was highlighted in Smithsonian Museum a few years back and I happened upon in a podcast out riding one day: When a Quake Shook Alaska, a Radio Reporter Led the Public Through the Devastating Crisis

In the hours after a massive earthquake struck Anchorage in March of '64, an unexpected figure named Genie Chance came to the rescue. Genie was a working mother and part time radio reporter at local radio station KENI who’d hustled to the police station within minutes of the quake to gather information to report. Now, with everyone scrambling, Anchorage’s police chief had effectively made her the city’s public information officer: It would be up to her to decide whether to put the information and requests people passed to her over the air. [Source: Smithsonian Magazine] The rest of the story is amazing (link) and truly highlights the power, value and immense importance Community Radio holds in our lives and culture.

As almost all of the Mateo's Magic Bus posts are about the music I play on KFFR and see, that is of course my focus, an important component of Community Radio as I, as DJ Mateo, am able to explore each week, America's great exports of Blues and Jazz and how they are the foundation of Rock, Soul and Funk.

Corporate radio interests and stations would not allow for this exploration, which is so fundamental to all the music we listen to. For instance, when the great Chick Corea passed earlier this year, I celebrated his life and untold contributions by playing the entire first song from the landmark Bitches Brew album he recorded with Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and other pioneers & eventual band leaders in their own right, over 20 mins in length - not possible on today's commercial radio. So, please support Community Radio however you can, as individuals are the lifeblood of this incredible asset to so many communities across America.

See you in the airwaves most Wednesdays from 2PM - 4PM MT on KFFR-FM 88.3 and on & thanks for being a part Community Radio! Check out all the shows, blogs and reports from the road at Mateo's Magic Bus website:

- DJ Mateo

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