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Crunch time for Low Power FM

We recently got a press release from Prometheus Radio Project about how senators John McCain and Patrick Leahy are co-sponsoring a bill that would bring lowpower radio stations to thousands more communities across the U.S. That is great news, and you should act now to support them. But the fact that Patrick Leahy is also the co-sponsor of the Pirate Act raises an interesting issue.
(An unrelated note: all coders should check out Page 2 right now – click on the tab above.)

First, some background:

When Congress kicked off the Low Power FM (LPFM) process in 2000, the corporate opponents of LPFM managed to create bogus fears about interference. It was really pretty shameless. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB – the RIAA of radio) made a “demonstration” CD that they passed around to members of congress: nice classical music cutting out into white noise (“uh oh, honey, it’s static from a low power broadcaster!). All of these claims were transparently garbage. Low power doesn’t have as many potential interference problems since, well, it’s low power, and every LPFM transmitter had to be high-quality and inspected by the FCC, so these weren’t bootleg devices. The radio giants just didn’t want the competition. But their cynical propaganda and quite earnest campaign contributions prevailed, and they snuck the “Radio Preservation Act” into an appropriations bill, for the most part stealing (or, hopefully, postponing) LPFM advocates’ victory (for more info see Free Press).

Thanks to this arbitrary law, LPFM stations can only apply for frequencies that are separated by 3 channels from established stations, which kept LPFM out of areas where the radio dial was crowded (i.e. most American cities). Luckily the bill also assigned $2M to study this potential for interference from LPFM.

So now, two million taxpayer-dollars later, the study has found zero significant risk of interference, and John McCain thinks its a good time to trash the “Radio Preservation Act” and bring LPFM stations into urban areas. Even the FCC agrees. It is hugely important that we win this one: independent music needs payola-free radio, and communities need more local voices on the air. Widespread LPFM is to Clear Channel what filesharing is to the RIAA. If you live in the U.S., you should call your senators and tell them to support this bill (S 2505). Do it right now.

You might recognize Senator Leahy from our posts about another Senate bill, the PIRATE Act. There’s an irony here, and it stems from a strange kind of tunnel-vision that’s overtaken the left lately. I hoped to get to it in this post, but I’m short on time so it’ll have to wait ’till tomorrow.

For now, more reading on LPFM from Wired: Stealing back the airwaves and Senators back low-power radio.

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