Community Radio-Radio Community

PCUN barnraising. photo by Jonathan Lawson, watch the Barnraising video by Jacques-Jean Tiziou

At a book talk last week, the introductory speaker wanted to know who had come that night to be inspired. Almost all hands went up in the air. And yet, though the book was funny, informative, and suggested ways for change, I left tired, feeling somewhat anxious about the problems this country faces. Little of the talk's energy carried over into my week ahead.

There is something that these talks, conferences, and seminars lack. They rarely make the step from contemplating change or action to making it happen right here, right now.  

A different format for community events, and a recipe for inspiration is now being used by the community radio movement: Go do something you are really good at and that you enjoy, add a group of friends and inspiring new acquaintances, a pinch of play and another of political activism, and finish off with the feeling of having accomplished a major, highly relevant task. Now look in the mirror: see somebody with sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks?

That's what we all looked like at last month's radio barnraising in Woodburn, Oregon, a participatory community event organized by the Prometheus Radio Project. When Oregon's largest farmworker and tree planter union, PCUN, received a low-power radio license, community radio advocates from the region and the continent came together to set up the radio station. In one weekend, working and learning around the clock, we installed the antenna on top of a nearby water tower and software for audio production, we dug ditches for broad-band cable, set up high-tech equipment, and taught and learned radio production skills from each other.

The excitement about being part of building the radio station infused everything people did at PCUN that weekend. The belief that everybody has expertise, is capable, and has something to offer is built into the basic structure of the event. And that changes the energy. With everybody's sleeves rolled up, the lines blur between speakers and attendants, experts and newcomers, and a community of equals forms in just a few days. Nothing is more inspiring than a concrete act of solidarity. And few things forge stronger bonds, foster new skills so quickly, and encourage action beyond the event than working together on a common project. 

As one participant pointed out: I am never again going to a conference without a power tool in my hand.

Try it. The next barnraising is planned to take place in South Carolina. See Prometheus Radio Project for more info on community radio at and check out PCUN's website for more info on their activities and a detailed account of the barnraising at

Lilja Otto is a former Editorial Assistant at YES! She is currently learning about local food production as a farm apprentice.

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