|Community radio crusade renewed in U.S. Congress|
Legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress would
allow more community groups to broadcast on Low Power FM stations in
large urban areas.
A UMNS photo illustration by Ronny Perry.
A UMNS Report
By Mike Hickcox*
June 26, 2007
Known as "radio of the people, for the people, by the people,"
community radio is trying to break into U.S. large-market airwaves
through legislation that would widen opportunities for more
organizations to broadcast on Low Power FM stations.
Bills were introduced June 21 in the U.S. Congress that would open the door for more groups to obtain broadcasting licenses.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., a co-sponsor of the House bill and a lifelong
member of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Omaha, says community
radio allows communities of people to establish their own place on the
"What I've seen is that a lot of minority groups and churches in our
minority areas don't really have a voice that they can project, and so I
want to make sure that they're empowered," Terry said in a June 25
interview with United Methodist News Service.
Supporters say that, with community radio, also known as LPFM, churches
could establish a station to speak to its members and the community
living within a mile or two of the transmitter. An immigrant
neighborhood could operate a station that speaks in its own language
about community needs and issues. Minorities could have a broadcast
presence, and local musicians could find a radio venue to air
independently produced songs that large commercial stations ignore.
U.S. Rep. Lee Terry
"The Local Community Radio Act of 2007" (House Bill 2802) would allow
the Federal Communications Commission to license LPFM stations in the
50 largest radio markets in the United States. Currently, all the top
markets are off limits to new licenses. An identical bill was introduced
in the Senate by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Maria Cantwell,
"I really believe that this empowers our communities," said Terry.
"Now the low power FM may be a weak signal only going out a couple
miles, but it has the potential of making our communities stronger. And
this is what it's all about."
In a June 21 news conference to introduce the bill, House co-sponsor
Rep. Mike Doyle pointed out the cultural wealth that currently never
makes commercial airwaves. "LPFM offers local communities the
opportunity to broadcast music and other programming at a cost they can
afford," said Doyle, D-Pa. "And it holds the promise to dramatically
increase the diversity of programming and political views available over
The congressmen and other advocates urged faith groups to write and
call their congressional representatives in behalf of the legislation.
"People of faith are concerned across the board about poverty and
health crises in developing countries, and yet those issues are rarely
on the airways. Instead we're hearing celebrity gossip and
commercialism," said Cheryl Leanza, who lobbies for media reform on
behalf of the United Church of Christ.
Another supporter, Amy Ray of the musical group The Indigo Girls,
says issuing low-power FM licenses will benefit urban communities.
“I really believe that this empowers our communities.”
–U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.
"It's perfect for cities and urban areas where one community may live
in a certain section of town that needs to be informed and needs to
inform each other and this is one way to do it," said Ray, speaking at
the news conference. "This is a very easy way to have special language
programming, or announcements about local political organizations that
are working, and so I feel very strongly about it."
Fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers said she personally has witnessed
the country's rich diversity while traveling to perform in cities and
towns across the United States. Community radio would reflect that
diversity, she said.
The possibility of community FM radio opened up in 2000 when the FCC
voted to issue licenses. But commercial broadcasters argued the change
could cause "oceans of interference" for full-power stations, and
Congress quickly blocked the issuance of other licenses in densely
populated areas. A subsequent congressionally mandated study of the
issue, known as the MITRE Report, showed such LPFM stations would not
Terry is upbeat about the bill's chances and anxious to "educate"
other members of Congress about the advantages of a wider radio
marketplace of news, ideas and music. "… We also aren't seeing the
roadblocks that existed in '99 and 2000 which forced the MITRE Report.
So I'm really optimistic about this bill," he said.
Currently, more than 750 low power FM stations are in operation, mostly in less-populated parts of the United States.
*Hickcox is manager of audio/radio ministry initiatives at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Mike Hickcox, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., on the value of Low Power FM stations
U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., on initial response to the LPFM bill
Indigo Girl Emily Saliers on radio's ability to give local expression
Church of Christ media lobbyist Cheryl Leanza on the urgent need for community radio
Federal Communications Commission
Prometheus Radio Project
The Media Access Project