t byfield on Fri, 21 Apr 2000 20:54:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> US Low-power radio action alert


                                                           April 20, 2000
                     ....CounterPunch Action Alert....
Low-Power Radio: Mayday! Mayday!

   Trust the broadcasting industry to recoil in horror at the prospect of
   more choice for the American people, who -- be it never forgotten --
   actually own the airwaves this same broadcasting industry claims as
   its own. In a shameful vote on April 13, just before the Easter recess
   and after furious lobbying by the National Association of Broadcasters
   (NAB), the House of Representatives voted 274 to 110 to scuttle one of
   the few creditable rulings issued in recent years by the Federal
   Communications Commission. If the Senate concurs, Congress will have
   issued a stark No to free speech and democratic communications, just
   as ruthlessly as any dictator sending troops into a broadcasting
   The broadcasting lobby has been on a rampage ever since the FCC voted
   on January 20 to authorize license applications for noncommercial FM
   stations to begin low-power broadcasting to their communities. Such
   stations, with a range of up to ten miles, would be able to get on the
   air for as little as $1,000.
   The FCC's January ruling came as a welcome surprise amid the pell-mell
   concentration of station ownership prompted by the 1996
   Telecommunications Act. The FCC acted partly to show it's not an
   industry serf, partly to head off the possibility of court rulings
   endorsing low-watt radio on free-speech grounds. The very same day as
   the House vote, April 13, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
   gave a friendly hearing to low-watt pioneer Steve Dunifer, who has
   been battling the FCC in court for many years.
   Even so, the FCC did bow to industry pressure on a technical question
   of enormous importance, the issue of "separation requirements". Old
   FCC rules required three separations between one FM station and
   another. This meant that if a station is broadcasting on, say, 91.1
   another broadcaster couldn't grab 91.3, 91.5 or 91.7. The next
   available frequency would be 91.9. This effectively meant that the
   only FM frequencies available to new low-power stations were in
   virtually uninhabited regions of the country, mostly desert.
   Technology has changed greatly since those old rules were made, and by
   the new millennium the FCC was prepared to move to a separation
   requirement of one, regarded by independent communications engineers
   as quite sufficient to preserve the integrity of existing FM signals.
   But finally the FCC flinched in the face of fierce NAB pressure, and
   its January 20 ruling called for a separation requirement of two,
   meaning that there would be no new low-watt stations operating legally
   in cities like New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco.
   But this still wasn't enough for the broadcasting industry. Even as
   the FCC ruling prompted hundreds of excited nonprofit groups to ready
   their license applications, NAB lobbyists began to deploy across
   Capitol Hill. To befuddled lawmakers these lobbyists played an utterly
   fraudulent CD purporting to show the chaos on the airwaves that would
   be caused by the new two-separation requirement. Engineers from the
   FCC and from legal, church and community groups came to hearings and
   demonstrated the fraudulence of the NAB's claims.
   But by now lawmakers were being pressed by an NAB ally, formerly
   furtive but now brazen in its stance: National Public Radio. Kevin
   Klose, president of NPR, stated flatly in a recent Radio World
   broadcast that "the American public would not be well served by an FCC
   ruling that creates LPFM [low-power FM] at the expense of the existing
   public radio services." Klose has good reason to be afraid. Ever since
   NPR forced its affiliates to accept nationally syndicated NPR
   programming, the proportion of locally originated and
   community-oriented programming on these public radio stations has
   plummeted, and many listeners are discontented. Low-power FM is a
   threat to the NPR empire.
   There's another, more sinister factor in NPR's opposition. Both Klose
   and the boss of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Robert
   Coonrod, come from careers in US government propaganda abroad. Klose
   ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, long a stamping ground for
   the CIA. Coonrod oversaw the Voice of America and both Radio and TV
   Martí. As Peter Franck of the National Lawyers Guild's Committee on
   Democratic Communications puts it, "Klose and Coonrod come out of the
   national security state. Their instinct is to see federally funded
   public radio as an actual or potential propaganda arm of government,
   and they're terrified of independent voices." Indeed, Coonrod has been
   intimately involved in efforts to curb the independence of stations in
   the noncommercial Pacifica network, which is now the object of an
   admirable strike by Pacifica Network News reporters.
   The awful April 13 House vote came as the consequence of a deal
   between Republican Michael Oxley and Democrat John Dingell, whereby
   the FCC will be forced to revert to the old three-frequency separation
   requirement, which would mean no more than 70 low-watt stations
   nationwide, all of them in the boonies. The FCC's two-frequency
   separation requirement of January would have allowed for about 1,000
   low-watt stations. The bill piously calls for new studies by the FCC
   but is emphatic that the commission can never change separation
   requirements without congressional authority.
   The battle is far from over. Even though the broadcasting industry has
   great clout, the low-power radio movement has popular sentiment on its
   side, having fought for ten years with ultimate success to prompt the
   FCC to that January ruling. The Senate will vote on the issue in early
   May, and it's vital that legislators hear from CounterPunchers,
   communities, churches and labor as soon as possible. Yes, this means
   YOU. The White House favors the FCC's January decision. The Senate
   version of the bill will come before John McCain's commerce committee,
   so write to him and inquire whether he really is a reformer. Also
   write to your senators and their home district staff. Among other
   organizations to contact:
     National Lawyers Guild's Committee on Democratic Communications at
     (415) 522-9814;
     Prometheus Radio Project at (215) 476-2385;
     Low Power Radio Coalition at (202) 783-5588
     Virginia Center for the Public Press
     Radio Free Richmond Project
                         3220 N Street, NW, PMB 346
                            Washington, DC 20007
                  © Copyright: 2000. All rights reserved.
     CounterPunch is a project of the Institute for the Advancement of
                            Journalistic Clarity

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