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Low Power Radio Station Legislation, current and proposed

Updated on September 26, 2010

There is currently activity in Congress to change the rules on the issuance of licenses for low power radio stations. The question is whether the proposed change in conjunction with the current rules is a positive one. Currently there are restrictions on the number of licenses that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) can issue in a geographical area. The changes being proposed involve removing that restriction among others.

The title of the current legislation is Local Community Radio Act of 2009. Current legislation associated with these changes is House bill 1147 and Senate bill S592. While these legislative proposals are not yet finalized it appears that they will be in the future. The concept and objective of these legislative proposals is a sound one. The question to be answered is whether the changes will enhance ownership of local radio stations. The answer to this may not be achieved until the legislation is actually enacted into law.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the current requirements/rules of the FCC and the proposed changes. Much discussion and attention has been placed in the past on changes in the FCC guidelines and regulations as contained in current and future laws enacted by Congress. There have been some concerns as to the FCC dictating requirements for certain activities. The current status of the bills from doing some research is that the House passed the act on December 16, 2009 and the latest action in the Senate was placed on the Senate calendar under general orders calendar number 310.

This act has not been enacted into law at this time but the principle behind the action as defined in the current description is to increase the opportunity for more low power FM radio stations. Part of the changes would be to eliminate minimum distance separation requirements between FM radio stations. This would involve low-power FM stations and full-service FM stations, FM translator stations and FM booster stations. This will not affect stations that broadcast radio reading services. While on the surface this may be a good proposal the impact on current FM radio stations must be evaluated. The current proposed legislation would require a study to be conducted by the FCC to determine this impact which is a good idea. Many times legislation appears to be enacted without determining the impact of the requirements.

Radio stations both FM and AM provide a vital service to the communities which they serve. Making changes in license requirements may affect current operations and potentially adding more low-power radio stations could affect the operational capability of current stations. The principle behind the proposed legislation as previously mentioned is admirable. Increasing the number of radio stations in any geographical area may create interference between the stations. The impact to consumers and the stations involved may be inaccessibility of consumers listening to their favorite stations. Radio stations may lose advertising revenue if the station has interference from other stations in the area and their message cannot be clearly broadcasted without interference.

There has been some concern about the initiative discussed above that some stations may have some restrictions. Comments have been made whether they are accurate or not are yet to be determined by the scope of the legislation that will be enacted at some point in time. The basic comment involves the potential requirement that radio stations allow both sides of an issue or political agenda to be broadcast on the same station. The public has a right to listen to what they want to hear and to impose conditions that would require radio stations whether they are AM or FM would be wrong. Listeners to radio stations have a right to listen to what they want and that is why they choose certain radio stations. Radio stations should not be required to provide both sides of an issue. Granted it is the right of individuals to voice their opinion on issues but it would not be right to require radio stations to broadcast that opinion.

Radio stations can be liberal or conservative in their programs or issues they broadcast. Each will have their own constituency. We as Americans are free to listen to what we want. Principally it is a matter of record that some stations do not have the volume of listeners to make it financially sound. There have been instances as can be found through research that many organizations or groups have not been granted licenses to broadcast. Some of these are educational institutions. Changing the rules to accommodate this need would be a plus.

A change in the licensing requirements as defined in the authority given to the FCC to accommodate this need is the right thing to do. I have no doubt that there are many organizations or groups that would like to be granted a license to broadcast. Any details for licensing and the frequency granted must ensure that there will be no interference with other radio stations in a geographical area. If interference exists it would have a negative effect on the radio stations and frequencies involved and in my view would not be in conjunction with the objective and authority of the FCC. The mission of the FCC is to ensure that the American people have available at reasonable costs and without discrimination rapid, efficient and world-wide communication services. This involves radio, television, wire, satellite or cable. Licenses granted for radio stations and their frequency has the right to expect that their message and programs will not be interfered with by other radio station frequencies in their geographical area.

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