On Sunday, November 5, at 7 a.m. ET/PT, 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 the potential 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.
If you have an interest in supporting Low Power Radio, then support the Prometheus Radio Project. And, I can’t help but add, if you want to support the legal efforts to help LPFM fulfill its promise, support my employer Media Access Project.
If you don’t already know about LPFM, or why you should care, see below . . .
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.
A number of these “radio pirates” decided to take a chance that Kennard’s offer was on the up and up. Chief among the groups formed to create this new “low power FM” service was a group called the the Prometheus Radio Project. Before anyone dreamed of a “media reform movement,” Prometheus reached out to civil rights activists, religious groups, consumer groups, and others to explain why creating the opportunity for thousands of new indpendent, community -based non-commercial radio stations would benefit their organizations and communities generally.
The effort to establish the service met 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. But since when has reality mattered in Washington? Especially in the face of media concentration?
Enter the Media Access Project, the public interest’s own K St. firm. MAP, particularly then-MAP Deputy Director Cheryl Leanza, “walked the halls” of the FCC, countering the arguments of the NAB and NPR lobbyists. MAP submitted legal filings, brought in would-be licensees to put a face on the idea of the service, and kept the community of low power FM supporters informed and alert for every opportunity to press their case.
Astoundingly, the FCC authorized the service in the face of united 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 then-Majority Leader Trent Lott to include the “Broadcasting Preservation Act” in the omnibus funding bill passed in lame duck session in 2001. It hurt, badly. Not only did it hurt to see the thousands of would be licensees winnowed down to a few hundred. It hurt to have won so much against the odds, only to lose so much due to a shameful, cynical insider manuever by the all-powerful Washington lobbyists.
Imagine if, after the Prince put the glass slipper on Cinderella and began to lead her back to the Palace, her wicked step-mother whacked her from behind with a rolling pin. That’s what it felt like. But the LPFM movement sucked it up and moved on.
In the five years since the FCC began handing out LPFM licenses, 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 bipartisan 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. In 2005, the FCC began a new rulemaking to see how it can strengthen and improve the LPFM service — particularly in the face of “encroachment” by new full power stations and FM translators. The fight for LPFM goes on, and the service keeps growing.
The United Church of Christ, an early believer in the ability of LPFM to promote communities of faith and social justice, has made a documentary about the service. It will run on the Hallmark Channel on November 5 at 7 a.m. ET/PT. You can read the official press release for the documentary here.
Stay tuned . . . .