Chicago’s CHIRP Radio Aims to Go from Online to On-Air

In Chicago, there are just 25 licensed FM stations, from 88.1 all the way up the dial to 107.5.  CHIRP Radio is lobbying to be the 26th.
Finding a spot on the radio dial has been a long road for CHIRP, which will celebrate its fifth year on online “airwaves” in January.  The FCC hasn’t opened applications for low-power FM broadcast license, the license type CHIRP is after, since 2000.  To request access to applications, CIW Co-op Member and CHIRP Founder Shawn Campbell, alongside other independent radio activists, traveled to D.C. to persuade the FCC to open applications in 2013—a request that required not just FCC approval, but a new law. The bureaucratic hoops exist in part because, as Campbell notes, unlike the web, the radio dial is “finite.” 

CHIRP Founder Shawn Campbell brings local, genre-diverse
music to Chicago radio.
Ultimately, obtaining a license is a step that Campbell sees as integral to what is, after all, the Chicago Independent Radio Project—with emphasis on independent.
“If you control the license, you control the state of the station,” Campbell explained, drawing on 20 years of commercial and independent radio experience.  “The only way to have a truly independent station is [to have a license].”
In the meantime, CHIRP’s team of over 200 volunteers continues to program unique, often Chicago-centric music of all genres via their website.  (And CHIRP’s music selection is truly genre-diverse—in one sentence, Campbell mentions punk, country and hip-hop).  Online, CHIRP curates unique music lists (“Top Five East German Bands”), mines Chicago for upcoming shows (and sponsors many shows, to boot) and offers interviews with Chicago’s people of interest.
Through these programming efforts, CHIRP aims to restore listeners’ trust in radio—a trust Campbell believes many lost when radio veered farther toward the commercial over the past 20 years.

“A lot of people say, ‘I completely stopped listening to radio until I found you guys,’” Campbell said.  If granted an FM radio license, Campbell is certain that the number of people who find, and appreciate, CHIRP will only grow.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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