Congress OK’s More Community Radio Stations

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US Capitol Building at night

US Capitol Building at night

In the coming years there will be hundreds if not thousands of new low-power FM radio stations on the air if President Obama signs a bill passed by the Senate today. The Local Community Radio Act overcame intense lobbying from the National Association of Broadcasters to win approval.

The Federal Communications Commission created low-power FM in 2000, but he NAB got Congress to restrict the service mostly to rural areas to prevent interference with full-power commercial broadcasters. A Federal study costing $2.2 Million in taxpayer dollars found that the NAB’s interference claims were false and that low-power FM should be allowed in more areas.

Congress changed its mind after intense lobbying groups ranging from the Prometheus Radio Project, to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Media reform group Free Press hailed the bill’s passage.

“We are thrilled that Congress has finally passed legislation that will put the airwaves back in the hands of our communities. The Local Community Radio Act will make it possible for hundreds, if not thousands, of new local radio stations to go on the air”, said Candace Clement, outreach manager for the Free Press Action Fund.

The Local Community Radio Act allows a low-power FM to be within three “clicks” of a full-power FM station, that’s one click closer than the current regulation. One click is the difference between a station being at 90.1 and 90.3 (FM channels go up in odd numbered increments). The change creates places on the FM dial in many urban areas that could be host to a new low-power FM station.

For example, in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area there are three spots on the dial that appear to have three clicks of spacing from the other FM stations. KQRS-FM is at 92.5 and KXRR-FM is at 93.7, theoretically leaving an opening at 93.1 for a low-power FM station. Other possible openings on the dial are at 97.7 and 103.5 FM. Under the current “four click” rule there are no possible low-power FM frequencies in the Twin Cities area.

The new stations will broadcast to an area about seven miles in diameter. Broad enough to serve a community, but not large enough to reach an entire metropolitan area.

Language in the bill indicates Congress wants the new licenses to go to groups underrepresented in broadcasting. Minorities make up almost a third of the US population, but only seven percent of all local radio and TV stations are owned by minorities.  Women make up about half of the population but  only six percent of station ownership.  Low-power FM stations can not be owned by current broadcasters or organizations with interests in other media such as newspapers. LPFM licenses are only available to noncommercial educational entities and public safety and transportation organizations, but are not available to individuals or for commercial operations.

That should open the airwaves to more voices.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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