FCC Opens FM Stations to Community Groups

Is the radio regulatory organization looking to open its doors to diversity?

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More Than 6,000 Applications Awaiting Approval

“Coincidences in Washington? Try this. Just when the Federal Communications Commission is circulating a draft order to loosen media ownership rules, it voted today to take final steps to create lower-power FM radio, a new class of noncommercial radio stations aimed at increasing diversity on the radio airwaves,” Katy Bachman reported Friday for Adweek.

“While the two FCC actions may seem unrelated, they are connected by a long-standing debate in Washington about whether there is adequate ownership diversity among the nation’s airwaves. Recent data from the FCC shows it is lacking, with people of color owning just 3.6 percent of full-power TV stations and 8 percent of radio stations.

“On the one hand, lower-power radio promises to increase diversity on the airwaves by allowing communities and organizations to operate hundreds of low-power, noncommercial radio stations. But the media ownership order being circulated, critics argue, would have the opposite effect by lifting the cross-ownership ban on owning radio and newspapers in all markets and TV and newspaper in the top 20 markets.

“. . . Even though the procedures voted on by the FCC would pave the way to process more than 6,000 applications from communities and minority groups sitting at the agency, it will not divert criticism of the draft media ownership order that blasts the agency for offering what’s basically a giveaway to big media owners.”

The Prometheus Radio Project added, “. . . for the first time in more than a decade, community groups nationwide will soon be able to start small, local radio stations.

“Nonprofit organizations, schools, Indian Tribes and public safety agencies can apply for Low Power FM (LPFM) stations in October 2013. For the first time ever, the agency will allow these noncommercial stations in urban areas.

“The news is long-awaited by the Prometheus Radio Project and its supporters, who led the grassroots coalition that pushed Congress to pass the Local Community Radio Act of 2010. The law expanded community radio by directing the FCC to make more channels available nationwide, reversing an earlier law that relegated stations to rural settings. The FCC implemented the law by creating more flexible rules on where new stations can be located.”

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