The Federal Communications Commission announced it recently granted the nonprofit Sacramento French Cultural Society a license to broadcast on KZAC 97.3, a low-power FM radio station centered in South Sacramento.
According to radio information website FCCdata.org, the 50-watt station would have an optimal range of about five miles in all directions, but could still be picked up at about 2.5 times that distance—from roughly the “Ghost Mall” south of Elk Grove near Highway 99, to a few blocks north of Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento.
SFCS hasn’t decided what it will broadcast—music, talk radio or both—and it’s still up in the air as to whether it will proceed anytime soon. But the station would become California’s only one dedicated exclusively to French language programming, according to online radio service provider Streema.com.
Despite the Sacramento region’s multi-ethnic population—almost 30 percent of people here speak a language other than or in addition to English at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—there are a mere 17 radio stations out of 99 that regularly broadcast in another tongue, according to search engine Radio-Locator.com. Most of those (12) are Spanish, the rest are in an Asian language.
As for French? The airwaves are lonely if you’re looking for domestic langue française. A quick internet search turns up only two all-French radio stations in the U.S. (the Haitian-American WSRF AM 1580 in Miami, and “Good News Radio” WYGG FM 88.1 in Asbury Park, N.J.). There are another 13 licensed all-French, streaming-only stations nationwide, according to Streema.com, only two of which are west of the Mississippi (Scottsdale, Ariz., and Denver).
KZAC 97.3 FM would be a unique thing, according to SFCS.
“We are debating the [radio station’s] costs and benefits,” the association notes on a Facebook post. The group has set up a SurveyMonkey survey to gauge community interest. Thus far, 25 of 26 respondents have indicated they would be interested to learn more about such a station.
One reason for the near-unanimous positive response could be the language’s prominence in the area. According to ZipAtlas.com, there are about 41,500 French speakers in the region’s 20 largest cities, about 3 percent of the overall population. Meanwhile, the number of French speakers in the U.S. has grown by 33.4 percent since 1980, to about 2.1 million, according to the Census Bureau.
Local growth is evident in the number of French language-related events that take place, such as the annual Sacramento French Film Festival – the West Coast’s second-largest, behind Los Angeles; and the spring version of the California Capital Airshow, which in April featured the Patrouille de France air squadron.
Events like these generate tens of thousands of tourism dollars for local communities. “It’s a quiet thing,” says CCA Executive Director Darcy Brewer. “You don’t think there are that many people who speak the language here, but put on a special event and they come out of the woodwork.”
Other unusual but prominent occurrences—such as the acclaimed, Sacramento-based movie “Lady Bird” directed by city native Greta Gerwig, or the Guinness World Record for longest uninterrupted live webcast, first achieved by foreign language students at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks in 2011—simply make the need to emphasize multilingual education even more vital, according to SFFF Executive Director Cecile Mouette Downs.
If it launches, time will tell what type of impact KZAC 97.3 FM would have upon the Sacramento area.
“As a concept, it’s interesting,” says Christine Lanphere, a French teacher at Natomas High School in South Natomas. “I would probably access it as an individual at first to see if it offered anything that I could use with my classes. As an educator, I would need to plan ahead, so I would need to somehow record a particular story, and/or be able to stream an archived recording via computer.”