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August 24, 2007

In 2000, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) created Low Powered FM Radio Service (LPFM) in response to the growth of media consolidation spurred on by rule changes in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

LPFM provides local, non-commercial and educational radio service, with transmissions extending for about 3 miles (100 watts or less), depending on terrain and geographical interference.

Today, hundreds of LPFM stations are on the air, mostly in rural areas due to strict distance requirements imposed by the FCC, after certain factions within the broadcast industry voiced concerns about interference.

"In the top 50 radio markets, urban spaces where small stations can reach many people, LPFM is completely unavailable," reports the Media Access Project, a non-profit Public Interest Telecommunications Law Firm.

>Find a Low-powered Radio Station in your area

After the National Association of Broadcasters argued that LPFM stations operating on the third adjacent channel would cause interference with full-power commercial stations, Congress ordered the FCC to enlist an independent corporation to look into the validity of this charge. In May 2003, the Mitre Corporation released a report (pdf), stating that LPFM stations could operate on the third adjacent frequency provided "that relatively modest distant separations are maintained," about 1100m.

On June 21, 2007, Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) in the House and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in the Senate, introduced the Local Community Radio Act (H.R. 2802 and S. 1675), which would allow LPFM to operate on the third adjacent channel, potentially creating thousands of new local radio stations across the country.

What are translators?

Translator stations are similar to LPFM stations in that their signals are limited (250 watts or less), yet translators do not originate signals, but simply bounce other broadcasts from local or satellite sources. And because translators are not limited to bouncing only local broadcasts, many larger entities are using full-power stations and hundreds of translators to create vast networks via satellite.

During a brief FCC application window in 2003, over 13,000 translator requests were filed, with over half of the applications coming from only 15 groups. "Evangelical Christian organizations in particular have seized on this model as a means of spreading the gospel," writes the COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW.

This enormous application boom, dubbed by LPFM advocates "The Great Translator Explosion," helped lead to the halting of further translator applications by the FCC until the Commission could consider their impact on LPFM.

Hannah Sassaman

Hannah Sassaman, photo by Dale Holland Hannah Sassaman has led campaigns against Clear Channel, the National Association of Broadcasters, and other media groups, fighting for responsible limits on media consolidation. She helped coordinate the community response to FCC media ownership hearings across the country, from Rapid City, South Dakota, to Nashville, Tennessee, as well as building an FCC-licensed emergency radio station used by families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

"This isn't a partisan issue. This is a sense of local communities wanting their voices to be shared, rather than just content being piped in from a thousand miles away," Sassaman explains to Bill Moyers.

She has been featured in segments on NPR's On the Media, Democracy Now, CNN, C-Span, and a variety of other TV, radio, and print sources. She currently serves as the program director for the Prometheus Radio Project.

Rick Karr

"It's sort of a McDonald's approach to can go to a city and you're gonna hear the same thing on the dial in the same way you see the same things on McDonald's menu nationwide. What the low power movement is trying to do is create little mom and pop diners that actually offer you local flavor, local food, local sustenance."Rick Karr, photo by Dale Holland

Rick Karr has reported how technology affects culture and society for several PBS shows and for over 10 years on National Public Radio News. He's currently writing and developing TechnoPop: How Technology Makes and Un-Makes Music, a book, documentary TV series, and blog that examine technology's effect on the sound and business of music. In 2006, Karr reported and co-wrote, "The Net at Risk," for MOYERS ON AMERICA.

Related Media:
References and Reading:
Federal Communications Commission: LPFM
Find application procedures, deadlines and current news regarding Low Power FM stations, and how to set up LPFM in your area.

Read the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 (Introduced in House), HR 2802 IH

Prometheus Radio Project
"The Prometheus Radio Project is a non-profit organization founded by a small group of radio activists in 1998." The organization believes, "that a free, diverse, and democratic media is critical to the political and cultural health of our nation, yet we see unprecedented levels of consolidation, homogenization, and restriction in the media landscape."

Media Access Project
One of the foremost LPFM advocates, the Media Access Project is a non-profit Public Interest Telecommunications Law Firm. On the Web site, you'll find a glossary of LPFM-related terms, low power radio action alerts, and articles detailing the latest FCC/radio news. Local Radio Now
Find out how to take action in support of local radio initiatives, and learn more about LPFM issues. "Free Press is a national nonpartisan organization working to increase informed public participation in crucial media policy debates, and to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and noncommercial sector."

Maine airs its views on media changes
By The Associated Press and Portland Press Herald, June 29, 2007
"Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members on Thursday listened to Maine residents' views on how broadcasters are fulfilling their public-service responsibilities at a time when most local media have come under out-of-state ownership." (listen to this public hearing)

McCain calls for more low power fm radio stations
"I am proud once again to join Senator Cantwell in offering an amendment to promote the introduction of more low power FM radio stations. Low Power FM stations are just that, low power radio stations on the FM band that generally reach an audience within a 3.5 mile radius of the station's transmitter. These stations are an inexpensive method of adding another voice to a consolidated radio market."

LPFM Database
Visit this Web site to find LPFM stations in your area, recent LPFM news and congressional legislation relating to low power radio

Guest photos by Robin Holland
Also This Week:

Bill Moyers talks with FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps about the state of media consolidation and net neutrality.
>Developments in the net neutrality debate

LPFM activist Hannah Sassaman and media journalist Rick Karr discuss the current battle to protect and bolster low-power FM radio.

A look back at how low-power radio helped to save lives after Hurricane Katrina.

Bill Moyers examines underreported stories about the Iraq war.
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