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Superior, Arizona

Reviving the southwest with community radio

I’m enjoying my correspondence with Radio Survivor reader Art Holt, who is working on setting up a Part 15 community radio station in the town of Superior Arizona. Superior sits at the base of a 500 foot sheer cliff known as “Apache Leap.” It’s a mining town that has seen hard times. In the 1980s Superior’s Magma Mine and Smelter shut down. It was one of a handfull of underground copper excavators in the area. All at once many valuable jobs were lost.

Part 15 radio stations have very short signal ranges, but are often effective enough to become quite popular in neighborhoods and small towns.

“Presently, Superior struggles with one of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Arizona,” Holt’s fundraising appeal says, “the few remaining local businesses wage a daily struggle to keep their doors open, and high school seniors graduate with the knowledge their future cannot be found in the place they have called home for most or all of their lives. This is why we are turning to you for help. The desire to have a community based radio station is very much alive in Superior, but as you can imagine, the town is hard pressed to provide the financial resources needed to make this hope a reality.”

Art and I started to exchange emails about this. I mentioned in one email that there were a number of similar community radio projects popping up in Arizona and New Mexico. One of them has surfaced in Madrid, New Mexico; Madrid is described in travel guides as a “ghost town reborn.” There’s yet another one in the works in Bisbee, Arizona. Both of these places went through mining and ghost town phases.

“I suspect there are a multitude of reasons for the growing interest in community radio,” Holt responded:

“Bisbee had no local radio at all until KBRP turned up about 7 years ago.  In the case of Jerome, Gulch Radio started up because the the signals of even a nearby station a few miles away in Cottonwood could not be heard because of Jerome’s mountainous setting.  Superior, in its entire life, has never had a radio station.

Based on the posts appearing regularly on sites such as HobbyBroadcaster.net, some of the interest clearly stems from wanna-be dj’s playing radio or real radio retirees wanting to turn a former profession into a current hobby.  In  many cases, however, it is a reaction to the substantial extent to which commercial broadcasting has become ‘corporatized’ and community interest programming has largely disappeared.  People have a real thirst for media outlets which will address their needs via news and public affairs programming and in the case of many smaller communities, that voice does not exist.  Thus, I believe  the growing interest in low power broadcasting is driven in significant measure by a genuine thirst for programming which addresses needs and interest of the community.

As far as radio in general is concerned, Superior can receive most of the stronger stations in Phoenix, about 50 miles away, but it’s a cold day in hell when any of those stations will air programming which addresses community concerns in Superior.  For that matter, the extent of radio corporatization means it’s not often that Phoenix stations air programming which address concerns in their own community!

I recently attended a meeting of the Superior town council, which was attended by about 50 private citizens, and it was readily apparent there is a palpable level of frustration with the lack of a media forum which will give air to their concerns.

Superior is very well suited to a Part 15 AM station in part because the town measures about 1.2 miles east to west an 1.85 miles north to south, so one Hamilton Rangemaster or Chez Radio Procaster, properly sited and installed, should cover the town nicely.  Plus, by going the Part 15 AM route, one avoids the maze of FCC bureaucracy which afflicts low power FM licensees as well as the expenses for legal representation and consulting engineers.

As far as the origin of this effort is concerned, my initial motivation was to do a radio retiree venture with a professional sound and in the course of looking around for a community not presently served by either an AM or FM station, either full power or Part 15, Superior emerged as a clear candidate.  The attraction of Superior became even stronger when it became apparent the community is struggling with a variety of significant issues for which there was no media outlet.  As a former radio newsman, this is where my ears perked up strongly.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this in my first reply, but Superior suffered a major economic blow in the early 1980’s when the Magma Mine and Smelter closed down under the combined weight of low world wide copper prices and escalating costs of underground mining.  The community has never recovered from that as the population has dropped by over 50%, median income is only $26,000, per capita income is only $12,000 and the community has one of the highest poverty rates in Arizona.

There is hope for a better future as Resolution Copper Corporation, a joint venture of world mega-mining firms BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, is actively pursuing plans for a new underground mine pursuant to their discovery of one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper deposits a few miles east of Superior.  This is not without issues as the mine site lies under traditional sacred Indian lands and would potentially endanger a prime desert riparian area in the Tonto National Forest, among other concerns, and the town has split fairly sharply between pro and anti-mining forces.  Indeed, some of the few remaining businesses have asked patrons not to discuss the mine on their premises because the subject was generating too many loud and heated arguments.

Virtually none of this gets any coverage from Phoenix media and the only thing approaching local media in Superior is a weekly newspaper which largely concerns itself with city hall press releases and high school sports.  The more I learn about the community, the more I see the need for a local radio voice.”


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