El Centro Cultural de México is currently in the beginning stages of starting up a low-power FM community radio station in Santa Ana. Hailed by the Weekly's Best Of 2013 issue as 'Best Community Space', the non-profit has hatched a number of grassroots organizations over the years, so why not shake up OC's frequencies too? With the Local Community Radio Act having been signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has opened a filing window from October 15-29 for free non-commercial, low-power FM radio licenses.
"We have everything we need for the application, including an engineer," says Luis Sarmiento, a longtime volunteer with El Centro who became interested in community media working with Colectivo Altepee in Veracruz. "Everything is ready to go."
Assisting in the effort has been the Prometheus Radio Project. The organization of radio activists that started in 1998 has since been a strong advocate for democratizing the airwaves through low-power FM stations in an era of ever-increasing consolidation.
"We have been working for over ten years to pass the Local Community Radio Act," says Ana Martina, Technical Director for the Prometheus Radio Project, who has been working with Sarmiento. "Since the dial is saturated already with so many monopolies and commercial radio stations in all the urban markets, low-power FM was the only opportunity for communities to have access."
The organization deems the current application window a once in a generation opportunity and is acting accordingly. "We also have a program where we have come up with a criteria and are supporting applicants," says Martina. With the government shutdown having affected FCC websites, they will also be calling for an extension.
In the meantime, El Centro Cultural de México fit their criteria as a state registered non-profit with an available frequency in the city of Santa Ana and a committed plan for a station. Last but not least, its vision is compatible with Prometheus' mission of community radio as a vehicle for social change.
"We're looking to provide a space for folks from the community to talk about their expressions of art and music," Sarmiento says, envisioning a future programming grid. "The Centro is also a part of a larger network of community groups that are organizing around a lot of issues in Santa Ana and Orange County." Interest is high among them about the possibility of hosting shows and delving into their areas of expertise over the airwaves.
The low-power part of the newly available frequencies is in regards to signal strength. Martina says that urban stations typically have a range of about 2-4 miles in each direction depending on certain conditions such as the placement of an antenna. "Right now, we are looking at a few potential sites," Sarmiento says. "We've been meeting with owners of broadcast towers and tall buildings." The higher up, the better.
In the age of podcasts, Radio Santa Ana will definitely be utilizing the internet to promote its future programming beyond its immediate signal area, but first, the project is in need of funds to become a reality.
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"Our initial goal is $10,000," say Sarmiento. "With that we want to cover the cost of the engineer that we need to hire for the application, the equipment for the antenna and setting up, as much as we can, for the studio." The march towards Radio Santa Ana begins on Saturday with a fundraiser at El Centro offering pozole, prizes, music and presentations about the importance of community radio.
"We're going to be live online in 2014," Sarmiento predicts, "and on the FM dial in 2015!"
Radio Santa Ana's fundraiser takes place at El Centro Cultural de México, 313 N. Birch St., Santa Ana. Sat., 6 p.m. The organization is also accepting online donations as well as checks made payable to "El Centro Cultural de Mexico" with "Radio Santa Ana" on the memo line and mailed to Radio Santa Ana 1150 W. Riviera Dr., Santa Ana, CA 92706.