South Philly has always attracted immigrants. But these days, take a walk around the Italian Market and you can hear half a dozen languages. Those groups coexist — but communicating is another matter.
Now, the federal release of new, low-power, noncommercial FM radio licenses to nonprofits could provide an opportunity to reach those diverse groups. Neighborhood resident Chris Randolph is seeking one of those licenses for what he’s calling South Philadelphia Community Radio (SPCR), with plans to broadcast in Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer, Italian, Bahasa, Lao and, possibly, languages, such as Karen, spoken among smaller refugee populations. “South Philadelphia has hundreds of thousands of people for whom English is not their first language, and who have minimal to zero local media they can fully understand,” Randolph says. Those residents, he says, may not be computer literate or have Internet access. SPCR, he says, could fulfill the need for coverage of local political races and community issues, like a recent school closing in the neighborhood. “If you could get out the same message in multiple languages,” he says, “it could be a powerful organizing tool.”
Randolph is launching the project under the umbrella of the nonprofit Resources for Human Development, with plans to broadcast from atop Methodist Hospital. But first he needs to raise $21,000 for transmission equipment, studio hardware and engineering. He’s running an Indiegogo campaign, but has a long way to go to raise the full amount. And whether Randolph will actually win the FM license he’s bidding on is another matter. If he does get the license, he plans to work with community groups to produce programming. Leap Thach, who runs UnitedHealthcare’s Multicultural Center on South Broad Street, says she could use the help: Getting the word out about her free programs is an ongoing challenge. “There’s so much going on around here, but sometimes people don’t really know about it,” she says.
Randolph says most immigrant groups he’s approached have been enthusiastic. Getting South Philly’s Irish and Italian associations on board has been a tougher sell.
“It would be important for second-, third- and fourth-generation immigrant groups in South Philadelphia to feel that they have a part in this,” he says. “But those groups have been harder connections for me to make. I understand why: It’s not as critical for them. If you speak English, you already have an abundance of media. But if you speak Karen, this is a godsend for you.”
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