At FCC Workshop in Columbia, South Carolinians demand access to the airwaves

Prometheus Radio Project:

Tuesday s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) workshop on broadcast ownership was transformed when South Carolinian supporters of low power radio flooded the public comment sessions calling for an expansion of the low power FM (LPFM) service.

Any discussion of broadcasting and media ownership in South Carolina should include the need to expand and strengthen low power radio, said Stephen Varholy, general manager of Columbia, South Carolina s low power WXRY-LP.

Low power radio stations are run by churches, schools, local governments, and non-profit organizations. Mike Willis of Lake Murray, South Carolina was among several supporters who used the public hearing to ask South Carolina s legislators to expand the low power service with the Local Community Radio Act.

We want to urge the US Senators from South Carolina to support this legislation. We have not yet had Senator Jim DeMint s support, and we are calling on him to help us pass this important bill this spring, said Willis, who hopes to start a low power station for his community.

The Local Community Radio Act (HR1147 and S592) passed the House in December 2009 and now depends on Senate action. When passed, the bill will make hundreds of new low power licenses available across the country.

Our goal is to put a radio station on the air that is truly responsive to the needs of the community, with everything from Carolina indigenous music to high school athletics to lake weather conditions and boating safety, said Willis, who has drawn the support of local sheriffs, Chambers of Commerce, and homeowners associations surrounding Lake Murray.

FCC Commissioner (and South Carolina native) Mignon Clyburn opened the hearing, which was part of the FCC's quadrennial review of broadcast ownership rules. Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2) issued a statement welcoming the FCC to his district and supporting their efforts to expand the LPFM service.

Coastal communities like those found in South Carolina are especially good candidates for LPFM stations, said Representative Wilson, who is a cosponsor of the bill. Indeed, such stations have had a proven record of assisting local communities in times of environmental disaster.

This lifesaving capacity is why the Georgetown, South Carolina Fire Department started WGEO-LP, which provides hurricane evacuation news and other emergency preparedness information. At 100 watts or less, low power stations can run from small generators during storms, and they are inexpensive to operate, allowing new entrants into the radio market.

The stations cater to local community needs without causing any interference with commercial, full-power radio stations, said Representative Wilson.

Jabari Moketsi testified at the workshop about his hopes to start a low power radio station on behalf of the African-American Gullah community in Beaufort County.

Here in the Lowcountry we have a very unique culture, but we usually find the Gullah culture is in the back pages of the newspaper or as a footnote to someone else s story. We feel that having an LPFM station would bridge the total community.

Chuck Smith works with country music station WLRE-LP in Elloree, South Carolina, which has the only Southern gospel show in the area.

WLRE is fashioned as the last of the small town radio stations. We love doing the ball games for the majors and the minors and the kids. That s been lost in radio. We also play our traditional to modern country blend which is being lost from Nashville right on down.

WLRE is also the only station with detailed race coverage of the Elloree Trials, an annual horse racing event that brings thousands of visitors to the small town. Low power stations support local economies by bringing a truly local focus on community events, culture, and business.

All five FCC Commissioners have voiced their support of the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act, which also has the endorsement of groups as diverse as the National Association of Evangelicals, the AFL-CIO, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the NAACP.

Despite this broad support, communities like those who spoke out in Columbia, South Carolina on Feb 23 depend on Senate action to gain local access to the airwaves.

article originally published at Prometheus Radio Project.

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