Radio License Giveaway

Jean Cook

GIA member and board member Ben Cameron (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation) called this opportunity to our attention. We are grateful to Jean Cook at the Future of Music Coalition for putting this article together quickly as we went to press.

We have before us a once-in-a-generation opportunity, one that could directly increase how much chamber music, jazz, vocal, world, and community arts we hear on the radio. This fall, the Federal Communications Commission will give away hundreds of full power non-commercial educational radio licenses. The application window is October 12-19, 2007. Here are some basics on what this could mean for your community.

Who is eligible?

Any group with nonprofit status is eligible to apply, and 501c3 status is not required. The applicant will also need to be in an area where frequencies are available. To find out if a certain zip code is in one of the available areas, visit The op-portunity is limited mostly to smaller and rural areas, though some great opportunities are also available in towns such as Athens, GA, San Diego, CA, Taos, NM, and Topeka, KS.

Would an arts group or institution want to apply?

That depends. Presenters, orchestras, opera companies, chamber music groups, choruses, community foundations, universities, arts councils, service organizations, and others are all eligible, but they each might ask whether applying is right for them.

Does their town already have a radio station that increases awareness and support of classical music, jazz, world music, and local artists through programming and partnership? If the area has a relatively healthy arts ecosystem and a strong radio partner, chances are they won't feel a need to start up a new station.

But there is a growing group of artists across the United States in towns with decreasing or diminished classical and jazz voices on the airwaves. This trend has been punctuated over the years by high profile losses in Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles, and Wash-ington, DC. If a town has lost cultural and local arts radio, this upcoming window is a chance for arts groups to make a difference and bring their local radio back.

Looking inwards, a nonprofit would also have to take stock in its capacity to participate in this giveaway. Applying is a complex and competitive process, and requires an investment of time (we recommend starting no later than July 2007) and money (anywhere from $1,000-$5,000). The good news is that the award system is weighted to favor groups like you. All other factors being the same, an application from a locally-based nonprofit that has been in existence for more than two years and does not currently own other radio stations will beat out an application by a national broadcasting company, or even a locally-based radio station.

Is help available?

It's worth noting that there are a number of organizations out there that want to help nonprofit groups get this license. These organizations walk people through the process of applying, make contact with engineers and lawyers, and (in some cases) even provide funding to help defray application costs. Once a license is in hand, they can help build the station and get it on the air as well. No one needs to be doing this alone.

Want to learn more?

On its web site the Future of Music Coalition has a "Full Power FM Radio License Fact Sheet" that gives more details. When the fact sheet was written, the "window" was expected to open this spring, and has since been moved to a yet-to-be-determined date in the fall. The fact sheet is at

Jean Cook is outreach director, Future of Music Coalition,