Beat Radio
December 19, 2000

Micro-Broadcasters Dealt a Blow
by Elisa Batista

President Clinton on Tuesday fueled the anger of low-power radio broadcasters when he announced his intentions to sign into law a bill that restricts the number of FM radio licenses awarded by the Federal Communications Commission.

The provision -- a rider sponsored by Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minnesota) -- is part of an omnibus budget bill.

Micro-radio broadcasters, or operators of stations under 100 watts, vowed not "to give up" their long-fought battle to operate such stations legally. They said the expected reduction in the number of low-power FM radio licenses would only encourage low-power radio pirates and lawsuits.

"I think a lot of people are going to take a hardline attitude," said Alan Freed, a Minneapolis-based low-power radio advocate. "I think we can expect to see court challenges."

Freed, who is not the legendary broadcaster that coined the term rock 'n' roll, had his own radio equipment seized by the FCC after he operated a 20-watt alternative music station without a license. His case seeking constitutional defenses against the FCC's seizure is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.

For months, micro-radio broadcast advocates including the Indigo Girls, faith-based organizations, and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) have been wrangling with commercial broadcasters that claim LPFM radio stations will cause interference in the airwaves.

The FCC said no such interference would occur and has been accepting applications for 10- to 100-watt radio licenses. The FCC has 1,200 applications so far and plans to award licenses as early as in the next few days.

Clinton has publicly disagreed with Grams' bill, which forbids the FCC from awarding licenses for the three channels adjacent to currently existing radio stations, referred to as 3rd adjacent channel licenses. Clinton probably would have vetoed it had it stood alone.

The rider was included after lobbying by the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio.

The rider that recently passed mandates that the FCC conduct studies in nine media markets and show whether LPFM stations interfere with stations already on the air.

In order to grant licenses in the 3rd adjacent channels, Congress must then pass a bill giving the FCC the green light.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said the FCC would comply with the "Congressional policy" and conduct the tests.

However, LPFM radio advocates say the lack of 3rd adjacent channel licenses will restrict the number of licenses awarded to applicants in the suburbs and cities where the airwaves are packed.

"It's classic Washington power politics," said Michael Bracy, executive director for the Low Power Radio Coalition. "The FCC is now forced to play cop in literally busting pirate stations for their illegal activities."

Supporters thought it was a fair compromise.

"We are pleased that Congress has protected radio listeners against additional interference that would have been caused by the FCC low-power FM radio initiative," said NAB president and CEO Edward O. Fritts. "NAB's central concern related to LPFM was the harm it would cause listeners through additional interference.

"Those concerns were echoed by other groups including National Public Radio, the National Religious Broadcasters Association, and Radio Reading Services for the Blind."

Freed, among other LPFM radio advocates, called NAB's backdoor deal to include the rider "crass and dishonest."

"This is how some pieces of crap legislation get passed," Freed said.

McCain hopes to repeal the law next year, the senator's spokeswoman Pia Pialorsi said.

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