The FCC took another step March 19 toward licensing more low-power FM stations, a move long advocated by community radio leaders. The agency will work through a backlog of thousands of applications for FM translators under a new system that it formally adopted, modifying a proposal floated last summer (Current, July 25, 2011). The pending translator apps must be processed before any new LPFM licenses can be awarded. The commission will toss out FM translator apps in larger markets to make way for LPFMs in those areas while continuing to process requests for translators in less-populous areas. Applicants can seek no more than 50 translator licenses nationwide, a new limitation cracking down on speculative filings seen in the past (Current, March 28, 2005).
Low-power FM? Try nearly no-power. The scope of the controversial noncommercial service shrunk abruptly last month when Congress effectively cut the number of possible LPFM stations by an estimated 80 percent. NPR and other opponents of the service who had worried about LPFM interfering with their stations celebrated their victory, while media activists, former pirates and other microradio supporters accused lawmakers of bowing to pressure from the powerful broadcasting lobby. “We are disappointed that Congress chose to ignore the will of the people,” said Cheryl Leanza, deputy director of the pro-LPFM Media Access Project.
Applicants for low-power FM (LPFM) stations range from mundane (Sacramento’s Sutter Middle School) to exotic (the Women on Top Awareness Series of Norcross, Ga.), and an equally mismatched bunch is debating their future. What else could draw one-time radio pirates to an NPR Board meeting, get network chief Kevin Klose on a Pacifica talk show, or bring together Republican senators and advocates for the blind? Since the FCC began accepting applications for the tiny noncommercial stations in January, the agency has received more than 1,200 from groups in 22 states and territories. Meanwhile, NPR, politicians, commercial radio interests and others have pushed bills to delay, weaken or defeat the new service, citing fears that LPFMs could interfere with existing full-power stations. LPFM’s supporters dismiss those concerns, and now find themselves in an odd position: fighting bitterly with a public broadcaster whom they ordinarily respect and often support.