Let’s face it – we all take media for granted. Those of us raised in post-industrial societies have long since accepted the worldview fed to us through soundbites by experts, industry professionals and highly paid and polished talking heads. In this environment, it’s no wonder that the very idea of community media seems like such an anomaly.
What is community media? Probably the most honest answer is that it varies, depending both on the medium and community. Underground newspapers, independent radio stations and public access TV shows all serve as sites of community media-making. Most importantly, though, community media is predicated on the radical idea that all people have the right to investigate, communicate and disseminate information about the issues that affect them.
To put it another way, channels of mass communication should not belong to distant corporations, or even wealthy elite, but to the communities and people they serve.
UCSB houses one perfect example of what a community of people can do when they take charge of the means to produce media. KCSB 91.9 FM, our very own college-community radio station located underneath Storke Tower, acquired its license 41 years ago this month to become the first station in the University of California system. Today, KCSB has become a fixture at the university and in the Santa Barbara community at large.
KCSB’s mission is twofold: to serve its community through excellent music programming and independent news and public affairs, and to reflect the diversity of viewpoints, experiences, and interests that, although the mainstream media would have you think differently, is the basis for all human populations. While the station’s music shows range in genre from roots to hip hop, from indie to ambient, its music library is consistent in holding only non-commercial artists and labels. That is, everything you’re not hearing on for-profit, top-40 stations. The large majority of KCSB’s public affairs programming is produced locally by UCSB students and community members and provides a forum for ideas and views that are underrepresented or underreported in other outlets. Finally, KCSB’s news department produces a local report daily at 5 p.m. and offers free journalism training year round.
If the critical thinker in you is wondering whether this opinion piece isn’t just low-budget public relations for KCSB, you’re asking an excellent question. The fact is, unlike media outlets tied to mega-conglomerates whose bottom line is always increased revenue, community radio stations like KCSB are operated by volunteer staff and exist on the support of their listeners. Although the UC holds its license, KCSB receives no funding from the university other than in the form of a student lock-in, and derives a large portion of its budget from the membership pledges of listeners. Right now KCSB is in the midst of its annual membership drive, and urgently needs your support. From now until Wednesday, we’re asking listeners to call in to 893-2424 or 893-2425 during their favorite programs and pledge their support to the station, and, in return for a $25 pledge from students or $40 from community members, they’ll receive a thank-you gift of their choice, from blues and spoken-word CDs, to books on U.S. foreign policy, to magazine subscriptions, to gift-certificates. Year after year, listeners have come through, expressing their gratitude for the unique role KCSB plays in our community.
Really, it all comes down to media democracy. A well-known writer once said that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, and this has never been more true than today. In an age of unprecedented consolidation of major media outlets, KCSB and its sister stations around the world bear increasing responsibility for seeing that the people in their local communities are assured a voice in the landscape of contemporary public debate. Tune in to 91.9 FM, and support your station.
Ginny Browne is the Associate News and Public Affairs Director for KCSB.