Ten years ago, the FCC did a startling thing. It recognized that much of the rise in “pirate radio” came from frustrated demand for small, local licenses of the sort the FCC had simply stopped distributing many years before. So the FCC offered a deal to the “pirate” community: stop transmitting illegally and the FCC would create a low-power radio service. Despite fierce resistance by commercial broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) (and, to their eternal shame, National Public Radio, which can be just as much of a bad incumbent as its commercial sisters), the FCC adopted rules to allow 100-watt radio stations to operate on a non-commercial basis. These stations would operate on a “secondary” basis to full power stations, required to protect these stations from any interference. To create space for these new community Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, the FCC would relax the “third adjacent” spacing requirement, a mechanical rule for spacing radio station transmitters far enough apart adopted in the early days radio to ensure no interference. The FCC studied the matter and concluded that relaxing this rule would not cause harmful interference to existing full-power stations.
Needless to say, the full-power broadcasters did not give up so easily. But neither did the supporters of LPFM. It’s a story worth celebrating not merely for the result, but for what it teaches us about staying in the struggle for the long-haul.
Low Power FM is a non-commercial service authorized by the FCC in 2000. the National Association of Broadcasters and, to its eternal shame, National Public Radio lobbied Congress immediately thereafter to kill this potential competitor. While not successful in killing the service, the incumbents did manage to get the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000” passed, which severely limited the number of available LPFM licenses. You can get some more background and links at this old blog post of mine.
Today, July 19, 2009, the Prometheus Radio Project is asking everyone who cares about encouraging local, non-commercial radio — as well as anyone who cares about greater opportunities for folks to use the electronic media, to take part in a day of action. Please call your Representative and ask him or her to support the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, which would repeal the RBPA and restore the original rules to LPFM. This would create hundreds of new opportunities for local communities to once again enjoy locally-produced non-commercial radio programming. giving a very different perspective on life, news, art, and entertainment.
Stay tuned . . . .
On Sunday, November 5, at 7 a.m. ET/PT, the Hallmark Channel is rerunning a documentary on the Low Power FM service. If you have an interest in citizen activism against mainstream corporate radio, including the potential of citizen power against the super lobbying power of the National Association of Broadcasters (shamefully assisted by National Public Radio), then I highly recommend this film.
If you have an interest in supporting Low Power Radio, then support the Prometheus Radio Project. And, I can’t help but add, if you want to support the legal efforts to help LPFM fulfill its promise, support my employer Media Access Project.
If you don’t already know about LPFM, or why you should care, see below . . .
Given my current insane workload, I can only rejoice at the last minute decision by the FCC to pull from this morning’s meeting agenda a new rulemaking that would start the broadcast media ownerhsip fight all over again. Contrary to what I’m sure will be the popular wisdom, I think this demonstrates a healthy, functional agency rather than the usual partisan sniping. My analysis below.
On the decidedly low-tech side, but still a very important part of my work, is helping the Low Power FM community (particularly the good folks at Prometheus Radio Project) deal with the FCC.
One of the things that has kept me busy this month has been a final push to get good stuff out before Powell left. It finally happened at 7:30 p.m. the night he left, with the release of this Order.
This is actually an interesting story that, among other things, pits local community radio organizers aganst some folks in Twin Falls, ID that are either exploiting loopholes in the rules or violating federal law to set up a nation-wide evangelical Christian radio network.