LPFM: Light at the end of the tunnel?

These days, it may be difficult to imagine the US Senate working on anything other than health care. But now that lawmakers appear to be nearly done with that mammoth issue, other business awaits. Grassroots media watchers across the country are hopeful that, with the leadership of Senator Maria Cantwell, a long-awaited bill expanding Low-Power FM community radio could soon become law.

Low-Power FM allows community groups and local governments to launch their own non-commercial radio stations, serving local community needs in a way that larger, impersonal commercial stations find difficult or impossible. While a few stations are broadcasting now--such as Spokane's KYRS, or KPCN in Woodburn, Oregon--the expansion of LPFM has been held up for years. Bipartisan and largely uncontroversial legislation to expand low-power radio has been in the pipeline for years--but has been repeatedly sidelined by higher-profile issues.

That all may be about to change, thanks to Cantwell, low power FM's primary champion in the Senate. The Local Community Radio Act was recently placed on the Senate's voting calendar after being approved by the Commerce Committee in November. The House of Representatives has already passed a similar bill, making Senate passage nearly the final hurdle. Cantwell will seek unanimous consent for the bill's passage. Grassroots media advocates are hopeful, given the broad bipartisan support for LPFM, and the fact that radio industry groups previously opposed to LPFM (including the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio) have signalled their approval of the current bill. With any luck, the expansion of Low Power FM could become law this spring.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey