Media Reform South Carolina started very small, indeed. Five or six citizens sitting around a kitchen table in Mt. Pleasant in 2010, starring into our coffee mugs, bemoaning the state of media in our country today. The last thing we thought we would do was get into the radio business.
There was much to bemoan in the media in 2010. In recent years we have seen giant media conglomerates swallow up independent newspapers and broadcast outlets. In this city alone, two corporate behemoths — Cumulus Media and Clear Channel Communications — own more than a dozen radio stations. The Sinclair Broadcast Group controls two television stations and is trying to take over a third.
The Federal Communications Commission once stood as a watchdog over the broadcast media, limiting the number of outlets a company could control in a single market. Those limits have become weaker over the last 30 years, as broadcast corporations have grown bigger and bolder in their influence over Washington lawmakers and policymakers.
The Post and Courier newspaper, controlled by the Manigault family, as it has been for generations, is part of a growing conglomerate that appears less interested in journalism and more interested in, well, corporate conglomeration. Once owned by the Evening Post Publishing Company, it is now owned by something called Evening Post Industries. On its website, EPI announces that it is involved in marketing and technology services, healthcare, education and training services, and real estate development — including tens of millions of dollars worth of construction in downtown Charleston. How does The Post and Courier's journalistic mission fit in with their other corporate interests and how will it be affected by these other "industries"?
From time to time, we would look up from our coffee mugs long enough to write letters to the editor or the FCC. Our gestures felt increasingly futile, even foolish. Who were a half-dozen mere citizens in the face of the telecommunications industry, which spends over a $150 million a year lobbying Congress and the FCC?
We were being swallowed up by corporate media. Local television news was vapid, the formats standardized across the nation. As for many Charleston radio stations, the only thing local was advertising. The music and the inane DJs are broadcast from some central studio to hundreds of stations across the nation.
In 2012, one of our members went to a media reform conference in Denver and came back with a vision. Her message was simple: If we can't beat them, let's join them. Let's start our own radio station.
What this town needs, we reasoned, was a low-power FM station that would be nonprofit, noncommercial, nonsectarian, and nonpartisan. It would carry Charleston's amazing musicians, who you never hear on local radio, and the playlist would include rock, jazz, blues, even gospel. It would feature intelligent, civil discussion of local issues by people who actually know what they are talking about. And it would provide a platform for local scholars from the College of Charleston and The Citadel to talk about Charleston's unique history and culture. (If you were wondering, Ohm is a measure of electrical resistance, and that is what OHM Radio is all about — resisting sterile, homogenized, corporate broadcast culture with independent radio in the Holy City.)
Such was the genesis of OHM Radio 96.3 FM. Now, after more than two years of planning, WOHM-FM is approaching launch. I write that with some trepidation. Yes, we have our call letters, our broadcast frequency, our broadcast and tower permits. We even have our 501(c)3 tax exempt status from the IRS. All we need is $30,000 to buy the equipment, rent the office and studio space, pay the utilities, and buy a shingle to hang on our door.
Media Reform South Carolina threw a fundraising party at the Royal American on Aug. 24, featuring a number of local bands. More than a 100 people came out. When it was over, we had raised nearly $2,000. That's a good start, but we need more — much more. That's why we have also launched an Indiegogo campaign. If you have $20 or $50 you would like to invest in local music and local programming, go to Indiegogo. If you would like to volunteer special skills to this project, including accounting and legal counsel, contact us at mediareformsc.org.
Because it is low power, OHM Radio's range will be very limited. We will broadcast to most of the Charleston peninsula and into North Charleston, reaching tens of thousands daily with 12 hours of independent music and ideas and syndicated programming from Democracy Now! We will be coming to a radio near you in 2015. Will you be listening?