For a country that professes to trust in the benefits of healthy competition, we've too long allowed politically connected broadcasters to block new community-based FM radio stations. The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 will begin opening the airwaves to everyone.
Sent on to the full U.S. House after relatively easy passage on Oct. 7 by the Energy and Commerce Committee, this bill may restore some spirit to radio dials now dominated by canned music and nationally syndicated talk shows. But it's equally likely to meet the fate of a similar initiative that industry lobbyists managed to sabotage earlier this decade.
Anyone who grew up before about 1970 will remember a far more interesting bill of fare on radio than exists today. Once, a long-distance road trip offered an exotic delicatessen of different regional accents, musical tastes and local news. In sad contrast, today there is a stultifying blandness to radio, with many stations tapping their programming from a few corporate sources. It is about as flavorful and interesting as corn syrup.
In theory, in the U.S. the wavelengths that carry radio signals belong to everyone. But thanks to congressional deference to companies like Clear Channel Communications - which owns about 1,200 of the country's 10,500 stations - this natural resource is managed for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
When the FCC first experimented with licensing low-power FM stations in 2002, the big boys went whining to Congress with bogus charges that these new local outlets would interfere with their established signals. A study has now disproven that allegation.
Seattle-based public-interest Web site www.reclaimthe media.org does a good job describing the arguments in favor of low-watt stations.
"The Local Community Radio Act will make the airwaves truly public for millions of rural and urban Americans," said Jonathan Lawson, Reclaim the Media executive director. "Once this bill becomes law, many communities that have been without local news, local music and local talk will have a new option: media by the people, for the people."
In Washington state, the law would for example allow groups like the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau to broadcast summer news bulletins about community events. In a public-service vein, broadcasts could advise visitors of rules for beach driving and clam digging. The uses for such stations are limited only by the imagination. They may spark an explosion of creative energy and economic growth.
Let Congress know you support this legislation, which is designated HR 1751.