Thursday, June 11, 2009

Congress Tunes Into LPFM

We know we’ve talked a lot about Low Power FM (LPFM) stations lately — this is our second post this week — but that’s because there are so many exciting developments in the land of Low Power!

This morning, the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet held a legislative hearing on H.R. 1147, aka the Local Community Radio Act of 2009. FMC arrived at the Hill bright and early to catch all the action.

Chairman Rick Boucher gave a quick overview of the legislation and the importance of LPFM stations: “H.R. 1147, the Local Community Radio Act, introduced by Representatives Doyle and Terry, would provide additional opportunities for low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. . . LPFM stations, which are community-based nonprofits that operate at 100 watts or less and have a broadcast reach of only a few miles, play a unique role in our media.” Well said, Mr. Chairman. As we love to point out, LPFM stations provide important, community-based alternatives to the automated voice-tracking and homogenized playlists commonly found on the commercial stations. (We've got it all in a fact sheet somewhere. . .)

Members of the subcommittee heard testimony from three different witnesses. First, Peter Doyle of the FCC (not to be confused with Representative Mike Doyle) gave the lowdown on the supposed interference problems touted by powerful commercial lobby group the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). According to the FCC techies (and the MITRE Corp, an independent systems engineering and research org), any interference with megawatt stations is virtually non-existent. Next up, NAB board member Caroline Beasley gave her testimony opposing the bill. Finally, Cheryl Leanza of United Church of Christ gave a bold statement in support of Low Power Radio to close the hearing.

Beasley’s testimony served to highlight the fact that the NAB is only supportive of localism when it’s politically convenient. In addition to her NAB board role, Beasley is Executive Vice President and CFO of Beasley Broadcasting Group Inc., a mid-sized broadcasting company that's undoubtedly smaller than behemoth station groups like Clear Channel. It seems likely that the NAB picked Beasley to help convince the Subcommittee of its support of local-oriented radio programming. Yet this is exactly what LPFM stations deliver and what the NAB is trying to prevent by aggressively lobbying against LPFM stations in more American towns and cities.

This isn’t the first time corporate radio has sent mixed signals regarding localism. In April, we told you about Clear Channel’s contradicting press releases on localism and, recently, Billboard featured an article about how Clear Channel’s “Premium Choice” initiative emphasizes prerecorded programming over local programming.

The Subcommittee, by and large, did not take the NAB’s bait. Several representatives fired questions at Beasley, some of which she was unable to answer. When Rep. Cliff Stearns asked, “why does the NAB dispute the FCC report [showing that LPFM stations cause no significant interference problems]?”, all Beasley had to say was, “We do. We are on record as disputing the report.” Talk about evasive maneuvers.

Leanza demonstrated the important role LPFM stations play in local communities, while Doyle confirmed that they pose no interference threat to full-power stations. Both of their testimonies were packed with data and examples of the unmet demand for community radio and the immense programming possibilities that would be created by lifting the unnecessary restrictions on LPFM radio. “As I have worked on this issue over the years,” said Leanza, “one of my favorite moments is after I ask someone the question, ‘what would a radio station sound like if you and your community ran it?’ All of a sudden a person’s eyes light up as they start to imagine what they could do. It is a wonderful experience to see the wheels start turning in people’s heads. “

You can read the full testimonies here.

Yesterday, we told you about our brand-spanking-new “I Support Community Radio” campaign, which features established and emerging musicians talking about how local radio has positively impacted their lives — both as artists and listeners. Head here to check out video testimonials from such artists as the Indigo Girls, Saul Williams, David Harrington of Kronos Quartet, Jon Langford of The Mekons and Waco Brothers, Vijay Iyer, Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady and more. And in their own words, no less!

Now that the hearing is over, Congress will be deciding whether or not to enact the Local Community Radio Act of 2009. Musicians: one way to have your voice heard is to create your own video about what good local radio means to you. E-mail to learn how to submit a clip. Oh, and Low Power to the People!


John Anderson said...

So...what was the vote? I'm assuming the bill passes to full committee now....

Unknown said...