City Pages

January 26, 2000


Radio On

By Peter S. Scholtes

JANUARY 20 MIGHT go down as historic in the annals of local radio, if local radio ever gets any annals. Not only did the black-owned Blue Chip Broadcasting chain announce its plans to turn KARP-FM (96.3) into the Twin Cities' first commercial FM station broadcasting hip hop and R&B; the date marked an unprecedented loosening of corporate radio's grip on the spectrum nationwide.

Readers may recall that the William Kennard-led Federal Communications Commission proposed licensing low-watt FM stations last January (see "Fight the Power" March 3, 1999). Kennard seemed sympathetic to the view of a broad coalition of activists that the airwaves had effectively been divvied up by a small number of conglomerates in the wake of 1996's deregulatory Telecommunications Act. Now, despite pleas for a decision extension from big radio's lobbyists, the FCC has voted three to two to start licensing low-power stations.

"I'm pleased, overall," says Beat Radio founder Alan Freed, whose 40-watt station [note: it was 20 watts] was shut down by the FCC in 1996. Freed has been fighting the action in federal court ever since on the grounds that telecommunications policy is unconstitutional. "Who would have thought three and a half years later that the commission would be moving in that direction? It validates everything that we've been saying."

The new Low-Power FM (LPFM) service would license noncommercial FM stations at 50 to 100 watts (with an estimated seven-mile service diameter) and 1 to 10 watts (with a 1- to 4-mile service diameter). No 1000-watt stations will be licensed--in apparent deference to concern over signal interference. (For details, check out the FCC Web site,, or that of the Twin-Cities-based Americans for Radio Diversity:

"In any major city, you're dealing with a pretty crowded band," says microradio activist Doctor Diogenes, a pirate-radio disk jockey on the local Free Radio Twin Cities (96.1 FM), which airs alternative rock and left-labor coverage. (The station's collective includes members of the resurgent International Workers of the World--a.k.a. the Wobblies.) Diogenes says the vote may bring a few more stations to the local dial. "But New York, for example, is not going to get anything out of this."

Commercial chains nonetheless took the vote as a serious blow. Last week a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters told the Wall Street Journal that it would consider filing a lawsuit if the FCC goes forward with its plan. Representatives Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) and Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) have introduced legislation that would block the service.

As always, stay tuned.

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