07/05/2007 10:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Building Progressive Infrastructure: Opportunity

God helps those who help themselves.

Soon, a rare opportunity to purchase radio spectrum and broadcast licenses will come open. These opportunities are limited to non-profits, which is a double edged sword.

I had an extensive conversation today with a radio insider. She sees a real opportunity for the good guys to make inroads - the mega-conglomerates like ClearChannel won't be able to purchase these high power licenses - but there is a danger as well.

The last time a similar opportunity came around (in a slightly different context) a right wing fundamentalist group, the Calvary Chapel, purchased a hundreds of them. They've done a pretty swell job of covering their tracks, but exhaustive digging reveals that through a byzantine labyrinth of shell companies and self-dealing, Calvary and its allies have pulled quite the fast one. They've expanded Christain radio, and when they chose not to use the licenses they were granted (for free) by the FCC, they were able to sell them for some pretty tidy profits. The net result is that even in the non-profit sector, right wing radio advantaged.

This time, as a result of lobbying on the issue, the rules are different and it may not be so easy for one ideological group to dominate. The FCC established a point system that gives credit for certain things that encourage local ownership. On the surface, this is a good thing, but upon closer inspection, we still have a problem. The network of fundie churches is well-developed. Word has gone out. Now, instead of one central buyer, you can expect to see granular, but coordinated buys, once again, by fundies.

It doesn't have to be that way. If progressive foundations and non-profits wake up to the issue, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a big splash in radio. Unfortunately, the window is small, and will almost certainly not be opened again for another 20 years or so.

One more thing: a new bill was just introduced in both houses of Congress that will open up new low power spectrum in urban areas. A station in Brooklyn, for example, may reach 2 or 3 million people. As this bill winds its way through Congress, we need progressive institutions to pay super close attention to it and be ready to act if it passes. Each one of these licenses could fantastically valuable and offer outsized returns in terms of organizing.

If anyone needs more information on this, please ask. It's a humongous opportunity that really deserves close attention.