Grassroots radio in Missoula 

Missoula Community Radio—a locally based effort to bring a publicly-spirited voice to Missoula’s airwaves took a step toward broadcasting last week by submitting an application for a full power noncommercial educational signal (NCE) to the Federal Communications Commission.

On Oct. 12, for the first time since 2000, the FCC opened a weeklong licensing window to create two NCEs in the Missoula area. If the FCC awards Missoula Community Radio an FM frequency, David Max, Executive Director of Missoula Community Radio, plans to air local programming about sustainable businesses, nonprofit organizations, healthcare issues, and area musicians, as well as the popular national program “Democracy Now!”

“There are in the neighborhood of 300,000 radios in the Missoula area, in cars, alarm clocks, at work, at home, everywhere,” Max says. “What better way to provide a voice for the community than something that easily accessible?”

The FCC, not known for alacrity, could take over a year to decide who will get to use the two frequencies. If MCR gets the go ahead to hit the airwaves, Max says the next step would be to raise an estimated $100,000 to $150,000 needed for the bricks and mortar of the station, plus an additional $10,000 to pay for a recently purchased translator, which would be used to extend MCR’s broadcast range.

If the FCC declines to issue a frequency to MCR this time around, Max says he’s worried that it will never happen. The bandwidth reserved for NCEs, located between 88.1 MHz and 91.9 MHz on the FM dial, will likely be full once the two new frequencies go live.

Max speculates that Missoula Community Radio will be competing for a frequency with religious broadcasters, who already have a large presence on the NCE bandwidth in Missoula.

“If you look at what is out there right now, the NCE band is saturated with religious organizations putting content on the air that doesn’t originate in the community and doesn’t necessarily relate to what is going on in the community,” says Max.

The FCC will eventually release a list of the applicants, giving Max a better idea of MCR’s chances of earning a frequency.

“I think the FCC will recognize the need for community radio here,” he says. “Missoula is a wonderful place and we deserve a responsive and open forum where people can hear, and voice, unfiltered opinions.”
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