Lower Power FM bill opens the airwaves

People powered radio

Senator John McCain has introduced a bill that would enable over a thousand new low power FM stations to be created in the US. The stations operate at 10 and 100 watts, typically giving a coverage of two or three miles.

Major broadcasters including NPR have lobbied for years against an expansion of micro radio, and in 2000 succeeded in tagging a rider onto the Radio Preservation Act which cut the number of stations planned by 80 per cent. The lobby also procrastinated by insisting on a two-year, $2m study which eventually confirmed that the low power FM stations pose no significant interference to the big boys.

Last year Senators McCain (R., Ariz) and Patrick Leahy (D,Vt) introduced S.2505, which aimed to put the movement back on track; the bill passed a voice vote in a Senate Commerce committee but never made it to the Senate floor. Now McCain and Leahy, joined by Maria Cantwell (D.,Wa.) have introduced the Local Community Radio Act of 2005.

The bill has support across the political spectrum.

In the UK, the success of pilot stations has encouraged Ofcom to grant around 200 new micro FM licenses. The enduring appeal of community radio is in stark contrast to the claims made for computer networks. While politicians pledge £1000-a-head solutions to solve the problem of the "digital divide", (as The Times reported recently), grassroots radio is proving to be as much of a turn-on as community websites are a turn-off. ®

Related links

UK: Community Media Association
UK: Radio Regen
UK: Community FM
UK: Ofcom
USA: Prometheus Radio Project
USA: McCain statement
USA: Reclaim Radio

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