Exploring the Power of Participatory Radio in the Deep South


cory - Posted on 23 March 2010

Project South is collaborating with Prometheus to introduce their southern partners  to our work around "participatory COMMUNITY radio." We are coming together to talk about the power of participatory radio/communication and provide our partners with inspiration/information/insight on ways that communities across the globe have utilized the radio airwaves to build transformative changes . This is an exciting new collaboration as we bring together POPULAR EDUCATION with POPULAR COMMUNICATION for the goal of building a grassroots PEOPLE'S MOVEMENT.


On a rainy SUNDAY afternoon, a dozen community members dressed in their Sunday's best joined together at the NAACP office in Americus, GA to discuss how community media and participatory radio can be a tool to addressing issues that are impacting their community.  The group, which ranged from youth to elders; men, women, and children, decided that the two
most pressing issues facing their community are lack of decent jobs and racisim/racial profiling.  Through the workshop, community members presented ideas of organizing a radio show that would serve as a venue for helping people to find work, announcing job opportunities, and discussing issues of unemployment and job training.

The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) in Dothan, Alabama is an incredible
community organization that runs numerous projects of survival while striving to build a community of solidarity, faith, and self-determinationt.  Many of the programs are working to meet the basic needs for those who are returning from Prison or are vulnerable to being incarcerated.  The programs include; GED courses, computer training, business strategies, transitional housing, work-release community service, a soup kitchen, voting campaigns for people in prison or formerly in prison, counseling, support for people with addictions or who are living with HIV, cultural and community events, ministry and study group, children's programs, clothing distribution, and a  newspaper.  TOPS is currently in the process of re-envisioning and re-viving their
radio program so, the workshop was designed to explore how radio can be integrated into their many projects of survival.

As we went through our workshop at TOPS, we were able to arrive at a profound place together. Through each participant's exploration of their own personal experiences, we came to understand the differencebetween commercial and participatory radio.

WMMT/Appalshop's One Thousand Kites program which allows families and friends of incarcerated people to leave voice messages to their loves who are locked in federal penitenary, and then broadcasts the messages into the surrounding prisons is an incredible example of using radio as a tool to break down walls and humanize incarcerated people and their family members. When we played a clip of their programming, there was a deep recognition that as opposed to hearing programming that was preaching "information" or making them want to buy something,they heard voices that were expressing love and longing for a person that is locked up.

Through this workshop, we all learned together- participants and facilitators- how to understand the power of participatory radio: a radio development process that is designed to create a space that is mutually beneficial to all parties - broadcaster, community, and listeners with the
goal of transforming society and building popular communication.