FCC testimony on media ownership: Leigh Robartes

Good evening. I am Leigh Robartes, manager of a low-power FM licensed station called Radio Free Moscow in Moscow, Idaho (where we have about 50 community members with their own shows). And we are very grateful for the opportunity to put a community radio station on the air through the low-power FM process.

My first points are pretty obvious: low-power FM should not have secondary status to full-power FM stations that want to move in on your frequencies and they should be allowed on third adjacent frequencies to full-power stations so they can exist in urban areas like Seattle and middle-size cities.

I want to talk about HD radio (or IBOC) which is the method of digital FM radio currently being rolled out. It really is a consolidation issue because HD radio sends out these redundant digital signals above and below the main analog FM signal. These signals cause interference to adjacent signals and, if fully implemented, will actually reduce the number of signals a typical listener can hear on their analog radios -- of which there are 2 billion in existence in the country, from what I have heard.

Stations won’t be heard as far away; that’s no big deal for the corporate chain-owners who may have another station of the same format about 30 miles down the road. But for a stand-alone station with a unique public service type format… they will be hurt.
It is also cannot be played by small stations. I recently volunteered at a full-power station that operated on a $5,000 per-year budget; but the digital transition costs at least $75,000 per station. This HD radio is promoted by corporate owners as increasing diversity because they say they can broadcast a second programming stream -- that is giving Clear Channel (which is allowed 8 stations per market, 16 stations in the city).

There are ways to have digital radio without hurting the signals of smaller stations that really help our communities, like putting digital radio on a separate band. Four weeks ago, Radio World mentioned that FM Extra, which puts a better digital signal on the same channel, actually transmits further than HD radio without interference (and is cheaper). I think you and your Republican colleagues should look into the type of format that is best for the public’s interest. Thank you.

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