A political air

Radio Free Georgia turns 30

It was 1973.
Richard Nixon was president. The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The Oakland A's, led by Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Reggie Jackson, defended their World Series championship in a seven-game thriller over the "Amazin'" New York Mets.

That year, on July 15, WRFG-FM, "Radio Free Georgia," began broadcasting in Atlanta. The station's transmitting antennae was a homemade 40-foot contraption made with a pipe and parts bought at Radio Shack. The station secured a spot on WQXI-TV's tower and was on the air broadcasting at 10 — that's right, 10 — watts.

This week, the 100,000-watt WRFG celebrates its 30th anniversary with a series of events, dubbed "Pure People Power" that reinforces the station's role as a provider of musical alternatives, community news and left-leaning public affairs information.

WRFG relies heavily on volunteers and private donations — much of it from listeners — in order to operate, and its governance through the years has been a decidedly untidy (if truly democratic) process. Still, the station has stayed its course, which is in part, according to its bylaws, to oppose "those forces in our lives that dehumanize and oppress people, especially economic exploitation, racism, sexism, militarism and anti-foreign/ anti-immigrant chauvinism."

"WRFG has a mission of providing a voice for those that don't have a voice in media," says Abdul Rasheed Mannan, a longtime station volunteer who has served WRFG in many capacities, including station manager. "That's one of the things that's always attracted people, and that's even more important now than it was when we started, because access to media is almost nonexistent these days."

On Tues., July 15, WRFG and various members of Atlanta's independent media will host a public forum at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. The meeting is a follow-up to a May 21 session on the FCC's deregulation plans, which drew nearly 600 attendees. Tuesday's meeting is aimed at launching a "people's media movement," says WRFG President Heather Gray, in which independent media providers will begin to work together more effectively to serve local communities.

Unlike most commercial radio stations, WRFG offers "block" programming. Time slots are devoted to specific types of programming, mostly music, such as blues, "world" music, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, Indian, Latin, folk and Celtic.

WRFG's music programming serves a variety of functions. For one, it is an effective political vehicle. "One of the best ways to get people to pay attention to political things is through music," states Harlon Joye, one of the station's founders, on WRFG's website. "With music incorporated into political programs, listeners are not hearing a long heavy narrative without something cultural to go along with it."

The diverse musical menu builds awareness of other cultures. Mannan, for example, discovered reggae music in the '70s thanks to a WRFG program, long before a notable Caribbean population had come to Atlanta. "I had no idea that I was going to encounter the very culture from which that music came right here in this city. [The music] prepared me for the culture."

For more information, contact WRFG at 404-523-3471 or visit www.wrfg.org.