Crowdsourcing Community Radio

Sometimes futurists don’t look far enough into the past before proposing their next big idea.
Case in point: Eliot Van Buskirk seems pretty excited about the pending expansion of the LPFM radio service, and he suggests that stations look into crowdsourcing their programming: “using music apps to control low-powered radio stations within small urban (or suburban, or even rural) areas” seems like a great way to program a station on the cheap, and it would most likely sound like nothing else on the dial.
Initial reaction to the idea is mixed. But it’s not necessarily new: pirate radio’s already been there and done that, more than a decade ago.
The crowdsourced-programming experiment occurred on the airwaves of 2000 Flushes Pirate Radio, a 30-watt station that occupied the airwaves of Minneapolis in the mid-to-late nineties and early oughts. Originally founded in 1995, 2000 Flushes dabbled in several microradio tactics that are used regularly today, such as using the internet as a studio-to-transmitter link.
At the turn of the century, 2000 Flushes opened its airwaves to direct public access. Chief engineer Eric Generic established a web site through which anyone could submit audio files of any kind. These were automatically sent to the station’s playlist-computer and aired within minutes of uploading. To cater to those who didn’t yet have online access, 2000 Flushes set up a phone number that went straight to voicemail; people could record a rant, song, or other ditty which would also be automatically transferred into the station’s playlist.
The response to the initiative was impressive. According to programmer Dan Crash, “We got more than just music. We got original programming, from mock political ads making George Bush out to be a whiny coke fiend, to people shouting out their own rants, to people making up their own station IDs.” 2000 Flushes crowdsourced several hours’ worth of programming in less than two weeks.
It’s anyone’s guess as to just how big it could’ve gotten, because the FCC intervened less than two weeks into the experiment, chasing the station off the air. When 2000 Flushes returned, it assumed a more transitory, hit-and-run style of operation.
Today, with the growing availability of wireless broadband and computing power available in a smartphone that puts the desktops of the late 20th century to shame, it seems like a good opportunity to dust off an idea that was ahead of its time. Here’s hoping someone does pick up where 2000 Flushes left off.