osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Set your Tivos/VCRs for the Hallmark Channel at 7 a.m. Nov. 5

The Hallmark Channel is rerunning a documentary on the Low Power FM service. If you have an interest in citizen activism against mainstream corporate radio, including both the potential and limits of citizen power against the super lobbying power of the National Association of Broadcasters (shamefully assisted by National Public Radio), then I highly recommend this film.

For those not familiar with Low Power FM (LPFM), it grew out of the microradio/pirate radio movement in the late 1990s. Democratic FCC Chair Bill Kennard offered unlicensed radio broadcasters, generally referred to as radio pirates, a startling deal -- stop illegal broadcasts and we will work to create a legal, non-commercial, community based low power service.

The effort to establish the servicemet fierce resistance from the incumbent radio broadcasters. Both the NAB and NPR objected that the proposal would cause interference with full power radio. But FCC studies found little risk of interference if they limited the service to 100 watts or less. Astoundingly, the FCC authorized the service in the face of industry opposition.

But the NAB and NPR did not give up. They took their case to Congress, asking the Congress to reverse the FCC's judgement about interference and ban LPFMs before they could even begin broadcasting. After a fierce battle, the NAB and NPR agreed to a "compromise" that would scale back the number of potential LPFM stations from several thousand to several hundred -- primarily in rural areas. Even then, the NAB and NPR could not bring the "compromise" bill to a vote in the Senate.

Instead, they fell back on an old trick. The NAB and NPR persuaded the-Majority Leader Trent Lott to include the "Broadcasting Preservation Act" in the omnibus funding bill passed in lame duck session in 2001.

In the five years since the FCC began handing out LPFM licenses, however, the LPFM service has proven what real community-based radio can do. From the incredible heroism of Bruce Philips and Kristina Stachs, who kept WQRZ-LP in Hancock, Mississippi going throughout Hurricane Katrina, to the folks at WSCA-LP in Portsmouth, NH, rated Best of 2005 by New Hamshire Magazine, to the coalition of Immokalee workers at WCTI-LP who used the radio to organize a succesful strike against Taco Bell for a 1 penny a bushel raise for hand-harvested tomatoes, LPFM empowers communities and changes lives.

Twice Senator John McCain has introduced bi-partisan legislation to repeal the "Broadcasting Preservation Act" and restore the thousands of potential LPFM stations the FCC approved in 2000. Twice the legislation was voted out of the Commerce Committee. And twice Senate Majority Leader Frist has refused to bring the matter to a vote of the full Senate. But the fight for LPFM goes on, and the service keeps growing.

You can read the official press release here for the documentary here.

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