Low Power FM expansion comes before the Senate

[statement via Prometheus/Free Press]

Bipartisan legislation was introduced today in both the House and Senate that would bring hundreds of local, Low Power FM (LPFM) radio stations to cities and suburbs across the country.

On a national press call this morning, the Indigo Girls joined religious groups, community radio broadcasters and public interest advocates in support of the "Local Community Radio Act of 2007" sponsored by Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) in the House, and Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the Senate.

"Radio should reflect the vibrant diversity of music, points of view and news in our communities, not just the narrow content a few large radio conglomerates deem profitable," said Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. "The Local Community Radio Act can make this idea a reality and deserves the support of Congress and community groups across the country."

A recording of today's national press call is available here.

On the call, the House co-sponsors of the Local Community Radio Act explained the importance of the legislation.

"Diverse, informative, thought-provoking, locally oriented programming has been dramatically restricted across the country by the current federal laws governing the separation between broadcast frequencies," Congressman Mike Doyle said. "Enactment of this legislation would improve the quality of life in communities across the country by providing new and different programming -- and especially programming addressing local interests and events -- to these communities."

"I really believe Low Power Radio has the potential to make communities stronger," Congressman Lee Terry said. "Congress should be expanding the forums for our local communities to communicate. There are several groups in the Omaha area that want to apply for an LPFM station, and that s why I am working to push this legislation forward. I encourage my colleagues to jump on board and get more local stations on the air."

In response to the introduction of the Local Community Radio Act, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said: "Localism and diversity have always been at the heart of radio. Many Low Power FM stations across America reflect the best of these traditions and have flourished despite existing interference standards. As I've traveled throughout this country, I've seen local churches, schools and other community-based organizations use low power stations to broadcast locally relevant news, information and music. That's the essence of radio, and we should do all we can to promote it."

LPFM stations are community-based, noncommercial radio stations that broadcast to neighborhoods and small towns. LPFM licenses make owning a radio station possible for churches, schools, labor unions and other community groups that best understand the needs of their local communities.

"The founders of WRYR built our station to help educate our community, promote its uniqueness, and assist in fighting sprawl along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay," said WRYR-LP founder Mike Shay. "The station has focused people in our area to care even more about local businesses and environmental issues. Because of Low Power FM radio, we are more politically active, caring, and engaged, which has enabled us to make a difference in our community."

LPFM stations have also been essential in times of crisis. During Hurricane Katrina, LPFM stations in the Gulf Coast region stayed on the air and provided their neighbors with lifesaving information.

"Our low power station helped many people find shelter and restart their lives after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said John Freeman, director of the Southern Development Foundation and founder of Louisiana's KOCZ-LP, Opelousas Community Zydeco Radio. "Folks knew to listen to us during the storm, and to work with us and our community to rebuild, because our station was the strongest source of Zydeco music in the town where it was founded. Opelousas is relying on KOCZ for church services on Sunday, youth hip-hop programming, Gospel, health information, and more. Low Power FM is helping our community to grow."

In 2000, Congress authorized the FCC to issue LPFM licenses. But legislators attached an unnecessary rule that limited LPFM stations to rural areas. Since then, thousands who submitted applications with the FCC to operate their own stations have been blocked.

"Effective and meaningful communication vehicles are a must for cities like Omaha," said Tim Clark, president of the 100 Black Men of Omaha Chapter, an organization that has been unable to obtain an LPFM license. "The need for Low Power FM radio stations for inner cities is so important when it comes to creating a sense of community and purpose, and uplifting a people to move to action. With so many commercially driven stations mostly driven by the bottom line, the community does not have a voice -- no way to mobilize the community to action. New community Low Power FM stations will give an opportunity for people to have a greater appreciation for their history, cultural enrichment and community pride."

Since 2000, the FCC has awarded more than 800 LPFM licenses to church groups, schools and civil rights organizations. The bills introduced today would authorize the FCC to license hundreds -- if not thousands -- of new LPFM stations in cities, towns and suburbs across the country.

"We ve been building radio stations that strengthen local music and culture, give families access to their local governments, help diverse communities get on the air, and save lives -- in rural communities," said Hannah Sassaman, organizer with Prometheus Radio Project, a group that helps set up community radio stations. "We applaud Congressman Doyle and Congressman Terry for their great vision in bringing this vital service to America's cities."

"Radio consolidation has shrunk playlists and knocked whole genres of music such as jazz and bluegrass off the commercial dial," said Future of Music Coalition s Policy Director Michael Bracy. "The Local Community Radio Act holds the promise to return radio to what made it great: cutting edge music, diverse genres and voices, and local, community-based programming. This is something Congress should have done a long time ago."

In 2003, the FCC released a $2 million, taxpayer-funded study -- known as the "MITRE Study" -- which unequivocally found that increasing the number of LPFM stations would not cause significant interference. The FCC urged Congress to repeal the restrictions it had placed on licensing LPFM stations. But no action has been taken.

"The number of churches that could have been granted LPFM licenses could have been beyond 500 had the FCC been allowed to accept applications from more communities," said Dr. Ken Bowles, general manager of Midwest Christian Media and founder of KHIS-LP in Cape Girardeau, Mo. "The MITRE study was done at the direction of Congress. Congress now has an opportunity to remove the ill-advised ban and allow Christian low power broadcasting to flourish -- bringing new formats and localization to urban areas."

LPFM stations have been instrumental in allowing religious groups to broadcast their church services, reaching new audiences and people who are unable to leave their homes.

"We believe it is the responsibility of the church to foster public dialogue about matters that affect the quality of life of people in local communities. It is our experience that Low Power FM radio is more responsive to this dialogue and serves the community more effectively than corporations far removed from local concerns," said Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications.

"The power to speak is the power to persuade, and thus the power to change the world," said Cheryl Leanza, managing director of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc. "Low Power Radio is about giving many people voice who have been voiceless and powerless. The United Church of Christ is excited that this legislation will enable more community groups and churches to bring their voices to the airwaves."

The 1996 Telecommunications Act dramatically increased media consolidation - and decreased media diversity. LPFM stations provide opportunities for people of color and women to run local radio stations and for local groups to address issues affecting their community.

"Media consolidation has made it extremely difficult for women and people of color to become radio station owners," said Joe Torres, government relations manager of Free Press. "People of color own just 7.7 percent of all full-power radio stations and women own less than 6 percent. This important legislation would provide more people of color and women with opportunities they are denied in the commercial sector."

"Consumers Union strongly supports this legislation to provide more creative opportunities for communities to be heard in what has become a very consolidated radio marketplace," said Gene Kimmelman, vice president of federal and international affairs at Consumers Union.

"We are extremely pleased to see Congress moving forward legislation to bring more LPFM radio stations to communities throughout the country," said Parul Desai, assistant director of Media Access Project. "LPFM stations serve the needs of the local community, which are often neglected by commercial broadcasters. Our hope is that Congress acts quickly on this legislation so that constituents can begin to reap the benefits of a local voice in their community."

"Common Cause urges members of Congress to support the Low Power FM bill, said Lauren Coletta, senior director of media programs at Common Cause. Low Power FM stations are organized by local people to serve their communities in unique ways that commercial broadcasters are unwilling to do."

"In California, we've seen the value of radio stations that are local and community-driven," said Jeff Perlstein, executive director of Media Alliance. "It's high time Congress put these public resources -- these radio frequencies -- to work for the public."

"LPFM is a low-cost, high-democracy form of community media, said Anthony Riddle, executive director of Alliance for Community Media. "There ought to be a way for every community with the will and an idea to have its own voice. Congressmen Doyle and Terry shouldn't just be applauded-- they should be joined by every other member in supporting this eloquent and simple ideal."

"While other forms of media are consolidated and homogenous, Low Power FM remains an innovative outlet for local and diverse voices," said Amina Fazullah, staff attorney for U.S. PIRG. "This legislation is a great step forward towards a responsive media that serves citizens and not the corporate interest."

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