Low-power nonprofit FM stations are the still, small voices of media. Whispering out from miniscule studios and on-the-fly live broadcasts, they have traditionally been rural and often run by churches; many date to the early 2000s, when the first surge of federal licenses were issued.
But in the last year, a diverse new wave of stations, united by the word "alternative" and broadcasting from basements or attics, has arrived in urban America.
Many bigger stations, by contrast being programmed and transmitted far from the cities they serve, the low-power licenses are exclusively local, restricted to nonprofit groups with a civic cause or formed solely for the sake of a station and the dreams that fuel its existence.
You want weird? Just turn the dial. One station in Seattle invites listeners to phone their dreams and fantasies into a recorded line, then puts them on the air, at least the ones that don’t raise concerns about F.C.C. indecency rules.
Russian-speaking residents in Portland, Ore., have their own tiny station.
And if you want be charmed by a 5-year-old boy chatting with his father at bedtime about dinosaurs, music and his sometimes bothersome sisters, you can find that at Tristan’s Bedtime Radio Hour, broadcast on Sunday nights on KBFG in Northwest Seattle, where Tristan lives. It also streams on the web.
The recent F.C.C. vote to end so-called net neutrality, under which internet users were guaranteed equal speed and access, might not directly affect small radio broadcasters that do not livestream. But advocates said the decision amplified the importance of small voices, however they are expressed.
“If it gets harder for independent media to stream online, the low-power FM stations will become even more important,” said Todd Urick, a radio engineer who helped lead Common Frequency.
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