Thursday, November 20, 2008

(Low) Powering Up!

If you're a regular reader of this here blog, you'll know FMC are huge supporters of Low-Power FM. But maybe you just tuned in, as they say in radioland. If so, here's a quick overview.

LPFM stations are community-based, non-commercial radio stations that operate at 100 watts or less and reach a radius of 3 to 7 miles. So they're not designed to pump out the latest hit to the masses. What they are perfect for, however, is giving people in local communities access to the airwaves. LPFM can benefit typically underserved minorities, church groups, niche and local music enthusiasts and more. As commercial radio becomes increasingly homogenized, these smaller stations (which peacefully coexist on unused portions of the radio spectrum) can provide a haven for specialized, community-oriented programming. The FCC thinks so too, which is why they voted in 2000 to issue Low-Power FM radio licenses. Today, there are more than 800 such stations on the air.

So we're cool — all the communities that want LPFM can have it, right? Not exactly.

The FCC was prepared to grant licenses to stations in more urban areas, but there was pushback from the commercial stations (largely represented by the National Association of Broadcasters). This well-connected crew told Congress that those wee-signal LPFMs would cause "oceans of interference" with their own megawatt stations. This made some on the Hill nervous, and so LPFM was barred from larger towns and cities.

Having eliminated (at least temporarily) some 75 percent of possible LPFM licensees, Congress told the FCC to conduct a study to determine if there was any truth to the NAB's claim of potential interference. The Commission "commissioned" the MITRE Corporation (the non-profit org responsible for automated air traffic control and the internet) to conduct a study, which was completed in 2003.

Guess what? The MITRE Corp. found that LPFM stations caused no significant interference problems and recommended lifting the caps imposed by Congress. Since then, a bevy of radio enthusiasts, community groups, artists and musicians have worked together to push for LPFM in more U.S. towns and cities. This broad-based movement has been effective in getting the FCC to revisit its rules regarding LPFM, and, in 2007, two pieces of legislation were introduced in Congress. (The Senate has passed its bill in committee.)

With bi-partisan support and clear public enthusiasm, we think that allowing more LPFM stations is a no-brainer. Of course, the when's and how's aren't quite as clear. We'll keep talking up LPFM because we think it's good for radio, local communities and musicians. You should talk it up, too. Check out our LPFM fact sheet to find out how.

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