Thursday, October 11, 2007

Coming soon: new life on an old medium

The dearth of musical variety on the airwaves these days is much bemoaned and well documented. In 2002 an FMC study provided early evidence that the deregulation of the radio industry had resulted in less musical diversity among stations, a situation that hadn't changed much by 2006. So it's no wonder that frustrated music lovers are turning off their radios and plugging in their iPods, flipping to satellite radio or taking refuge in the blissfully eclectic world of webcasting. But don't give up on old FM radio just yet. It could soon welcome a wave of sonic innovators.

Today, for the first time in seven years, the Federal Communications Commission will accept applications for FM radio stations in the noncommercial band. That's the lower end of your FM dial, 88.1 to 91.9 MHz, where funky college stations and refined public radio affiliates rub elbows. There's lots of room around the country for even more noncommercial stations, and at long last the FCC will award broadcast licenses to lucky nonprofits — particularly those proposing local services. This summer FMC has been working with the Radio for People coalition to help audio artists, activist groups, cultural nonprofits and other wannabe broadcasters join the party.

Competition for the noncommercial spectrum is expected to be stiff, though we're cheered by the FCC's Oct. 10 decision to limit the number of applications it will consider from any one organization (PDF of the Public Notice). And it will be several years before recipients of licenses get their stations on the air. But when our efforts pay off, FM radio will bring listeners a wider range of musical genres — folk, jazz, classical, indie rock, world music and more. Stay tuned.

Photo by takomabibelot.

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