By Scotty Reid
When it comes to African- American media ownership, much has been written about the lack of it and the controversial programming of the existing Black owned corporate media as well as the non-Black owned media conglomerates that target and market to the Black community. Many of these mainstream conglomerates are not serving the real needs of the community in that they are not using the power of the media to influence positive changes in our communities but are exerting a negative influence from the music and senseless chatter they promote. Rosa Clemente who was the 2008 Vice-Presidential nominee of the Green Party said it best when she said:
"As a new mother, with a two-month old, I refuse to let these companies, these corporations, call my daughter a 'bitch,' a 'hoe,' a 'nigger.' It's over. It's not about 'free speech.' It's about you're peddling drugs into the mind of our community. What you do is addicting our children to violence." - Rosa Clemente at 2005 Hot97 Protest.
Media experts and critics advocating for change are too quick to dismiss the Internet and Internet radio specifically as a means to combat and negate the media conglomerates. Arbitron released a study in 2010 that stated that 33 million Americans tune to Internet radio stations a week. Arbitron Inc. is a media and marketing research firm serving the media as well as advertisers and advertising agencies in the United States and has been tracking and documenting the increasing reach of Internet radio for years.
To dismiss Internet radio as a vital tool in building and maintaining alternative forms of media would be a tragic mistake. To say that we need to focus right now on setting up traditional terrestrial radio and television stations to reach our people is another mistake. The Internet is the future of media distribution and distribution costs are why so many newspapers have gone out of business or in danger of going out of business. Black Newspapers are doing so poorly that the Black publishers of the National Newspaper Publishing Association are pushing for Stimulus money from the U.S. government. For non-profits, educational institutions, churches and mosques, investing in Low-power FM stations to the Black community is a worthwhile pursuit, online a limited number of licenses will be available each year. However Lower-power FM strategies should part of a long term plan while the Internet presents opportunities now.
One the problems with traditional media services is that they have become a victim of advances in technology, the affordability of that technology and the market saturation of computers, cell phones and other hand held devices that allow people to instantly access information and entertainment via the Internet. With so many traditional mainstream media outlets flocking to the internet, a window of opportunity has opened up for those with a social entrepreneurial spirit willing to put in the time to build and network platforms targeting under-served communities. The Internet has level the playing field in terms of what it costs to distribute content if one understands how to aggregate content via social networking tools. The audience for Internet based media is going to increase even faster with automobile makers such as BMW already producing cars with built in devices to access the Internet. There are automobile parts and electronic franchises such as AutoZone offering Wi-Fi products that turn cars into Wi-Fi hot spots. Autonet Mobile describes itself as “a leading company that provides in car wireless broadband connectivity. The company is changing the way people connect to the Internet, one car at a time”. While their services may seem a bit expensive for those who want to use the service to access streaming audio and video, as with all new technology and services, the price is sure to become more affordable for the masses as new service providers arise. That is the nature of competition and technology.
Human rights advocate Malcolm X recognized the power of the media and he recognized the fact Black people needed to educate themselves in order to do something for ourselves instead of relying on others to do it for us. Malcolm also said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today”. We can fight to have the FCC grant us more licenses and make it easier for so-called minorities to buy radio and television stations subsidized by the government and should do so. However, at the same time, we can start building media outlets on the Internet preparing for the future of media that is already upon us. While some are asking the question about whether Black Radio is worth saving, maybe the proper question is whether real Black Radio and other Black media platforms are worth building.
Scotty Reid is the founder and CEO of the non-profit NC based Black Talk Media Project