June 11, 2010 - 6:30 am
By Mignon Clyburn | Commissioner

What a great ending to my four-day trip to the Midwest. There was no better way to spend it than with my new friends at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Community broadcasting is essential to the overall fabric of our communications landscape and I enjoyed chatting with this talented and diverse group about the challenges they face.

One highlight of my trip was a visit to KFAI, a non-commercial, FM, community broadcast station. One of the most incredible things about this 30-plus-year-old station is that, in addition to its four paid employees and two scholarship interns, it has hundreds – yes hundreds – of volunteers that help put the station on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

KFAI is in the process of overhauling its programming schedule, so it was a fascinating time to chat with the staff and volunteers about the dynamics of that process. And speaking of programming, it is hard to imagine a more diverse operational lineup. One of the unique aspects of the station’s content is its Ethiopian and Somali programming, which serves as a bridge to home for the many immigrants from those countries. Like countless other local radio stations, KFAI struggles to achieve the right balance of education and entertainment – especially when it comes to the 35-and-younger crowd. It is never easy to figure how to balance providing what the local community needs and what other factors suggest it wants.

I also had the opportunity to spend some time with the Latino Public Radio Consortium on Wednesday. This consortium consists of 28 full-power and 5 low-power stations. Some of the consortium stations program exclusively in Spanish, some air bilingual programs, and others program exclusively in English. What struck me most during my meeting with the Consortium was that almost none of them had ever met an FCC Commissioner before. They were extremely thankful for our attendance and seemed heartened that an actual person – rather than simply the big three initials – was right there in front of them to listen to their concerns.

Thursday was another educational day, beginning with a poignant speech by professor and author Michael Eric Dyson. Dr. Dyson urged community broadcasters to continually push the envelope and challenge their local communities. I also had the chance to attend a workshop concerning legal issues in broadcasting.

At the conference luncheon, I offered a few thoughts of my own on community broadcasting. During my talk, I emphasized the importance of the mission of community broadcasting and made a few suggestions on how community broadcasting can continue to evolve in the coming years.

My trip to St. Paul was a success thanks to the staff at NFCB, including Cheryl Leanza (despite getting me lost) and Ginny Berson, who helped coordinate my many meetings and greetings. I look forward to a continued dialogue with community broadcasters in the days ahead.

I am back in D.C. today, turning my attention to a speech I am delivering Monday at Rainbow PUSH’s 39th Annual Conference in Chicago. I will be joining the conference to offer some opening remarks at a panel entitled, “Wireless Spectrum Needs: What is the Best Way to Serve All of the American People?” See you in Chicago!

Thanks to helpful reader comments, I have updated above that KFAI is a non-commercial, FM, community broadcast station.