Source: Prometheus Radio Project
Today a bill to expand community radio nationwide – the Local Community Radio Act – passed the U.S. Senate, thanks to the bipartisan leadership of Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John McCain (R-AZ). This follows Friday afternoon’s passage of the bill in the House of Representatives, led by Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Lee Terry (R-NE). The bill now awaits the President’s signature.
These Congressional champions for community radio joined with the thousands of grassroots advocates and dozens of public interest groups who have fought for ten years to secure this victory for local media. In response to overwhelming grassroots pressure, Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a mandate to license thousands, of new community stations nationwide. This bill marks the first major legislative success for the growing movement for a more democratic media system in the U.S.
“A town without a community radio station is like a town without a library,” said Pete Tridish of the Prometheus Radio Project, the group which has led the fight to expand community radio for ten years.“Many a small town dreamer – starting with a few friends and bake sale cash – has successfully launched a low power station, and built these tiny channels into vibrant town institutions that spotlight school board elections, breathe life into the local music scene, allow people to communicate in their native languages, and give youth an outlet to speak.”
The Local Community Radio Act will expand the low power FM (LPFM) service created by the FCC in 2000 – a service the FCC created to address the shrinking diversity of voices on the radio dial. Over 800 LPFM stations, all locally owned and non-commercial, are already on the air. The stations are run by non-profit organizations, local governments, churches, schools, and emergency responders.
The bill repeals earlier legislation which had been backed by big broadcasters, including the National Association of Broadcasters. This legislation, the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act of 2000, limited LPFM radio to primarily rural areas. The broadcast lobby groups claimed that the new 100 watt stations could somehow create interference with their own stations, a claim disproven by a Congressionally-mandated study in 2003.
Congressional leaders worked for years to pass this legislation. As the clock wound down on the 111th Congress, they worked with the NAB to amend the bill to enshrine even stronger protections against interference and to ensure the prioritization of full power FM radio stations over low power stations.
Though the amendments to the bill will require some further work at the FCC, low power advocates celebrated the first chance in a decade for groups in cities, towns, and other communities to take their voices to the FM dial.
“After ten years of effort, a $2.2 million taxpayer-funded study, and new provisions to address this hypothetical interference, we are finally on our way to seeing new community radio stations across the U.S. This marks a beginning, not an end, to our work,” saidBrandy Doyle, Policy Director for the Prometheus Radio Project. “For the first time, LPFM community radio has a chance to grow, and we’re ready to seize that opportunity.”