Yesterday, we told you about an important vote in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the Local Community Radio Act of 2009. Well, we're happy to report that the bill passed in a unanimous floor vote and will now be taken up by the full body.
The House version of the bill has already passed out of two key committees and will hopefully come to a full vote very soon. At that point, it's a matter of harmonizing both versions of the legislation and getting it passed into law.
In case you're wondering what "it" is, the Act would allow for the creation of hundreds more Low Power FM (LPFM) stations across the country. We've been advocating for expanded LPFM service since the beginning of the decade, when the FCC rightly decided that issuing licenses for small, community-based broadcasters would be a good way to increase local radio options. The massive consolidation in radio station ownership as a result of the 1996 Telecommunications Act -- which removed the caps on the number of stations a broadcast entity could own -- has meant that "localism" has all but disappeared from the dial. This hasn't been good for local and independent artists who currently have little to no shot of getting airplay on the commercial stations, regardless of their talent or popularity.
So if the FCC is behind LPFM, why aren't they more common? Well, the Commission was originally set to broadly issue licenses, but the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) -- a trade lobby that represents commercial radio and television interests -- pressured Congress to restrict LPFMs to mostly rural areas. The NAB claimed that these tiny stations, broadcasting at 100 watts and with a range of only about 5-7 miles, would cause "oceans of interference" with their own powerful signals. This is a bit like saying that a lit match could steal light from a floodlight, but Congress was nevertheless persuaded to hold back the number of LPFMs the FCC was allowed to license.
The FCC was told to commission an independent study to look at interference claims. The agency employed the MITRE Corporation to conduct a study, completed in 2005, that -- surprise! -- found no significant interference to bigger stations from LPFMs. Since then, community radio supporters like FMC, Prometheus Radio Project, United Church of Christ, Free Press and more have been working to inform policymakers and the public about the benefits of LPFM.
Musicians like Nicole Atkins, Indigo Girls, David Harrington of Kronos Quartet, Vijay Iyer, Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady, John Langford of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers have gone on record with their support for community radio. You can check out some of their video testimonials here. We're thrilled that they've taken the time to talk about what quality local radio means to both themselves and their fellow artists.
We at FMC want to take a moment to "high-five" LPFM supporters on this significant victory for true community radio. We'll be keeping our eyes on all further developments, so keep your ears open.