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FCC Decision on Local Community Radio Act a Boon for Communities

"Community radio can help us tell our own stories, share news and information, and get organized."

Common Dreams staff

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released decisions on Monday to implement the Local Community Radio Act passed by Congress in December 2010, opening the airwaves for community radio.

The move gets rid of pending applications for FM translators, which are repeater stations that rebroadcast distant radio stations. This means that the large, corporate, often conservative media stranglehold over the airwaves will wane.

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Candace Clement: Making Community Radio a Reality

The Local Community Radio Act did something amazing: In an era in which money is speech and the 1 percent is gaining endless ground on the rest of us, this bill opened the doors for hundreds (possibly even thousands) of new community radio stations to go on the air across the country. These small Low Power FM stations — called LPFMs — reach a radius of only about 5 to 10 miles, but their impact is massive. Nonprofits run these noncommercial stations, which put the voices of people who actually live and work in our communities on the air.

This can mean different things in different communities. Some stations put local music on the air. In other communities, LPFMs are the only place on the dial where non-English language programming exists. Some towns use these stations for community organizing. But in all cases they are powerful resources for communities.

Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act in late 2010. President Obama signed the bill into law in early 2011. And on Monday the Federal Communications Commission — the agency in charge of implementing the law — took the first step toward getting these stations on the air.

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Free Press Applauds FCC for Opening Up Airwaves for Low Power Radio
Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood:

"Real people deserve space on the public airwaves that are often dominated by corporate media. Free Press is thrilled that the FCC has taken this next step toward making community radio a reality across the nation — in small towns and in big cities, too — including densely populated urban areas where community voices have been kept off the dial for too long. These noncommercial stations will help diversify the airwaves, support local music and culture and assist communities during emergencies.”

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Stephen Webster: The FCC decision strikes critical blow to right-wing radio dominance

“So, what a lot of right-wing, conservative radio stations have been able to do is expand their reach out in communities by just having these translators out in the wild, which is why Rush Limbaugh gets the type of audience that he has — because the networks take one signal and repeat it over and over and over across the dial all over the country,” Steven Renderos, national organizer with the Center for Media Justice, told Raw Story on Tuesday. “They’re constantly looking for opportunities to expand that, so there were a slew of these applications pending at the FCC.” [...]

“These [new, low power] stations can only be licensed to non-profit organizations, and you can only have one per customer,” Brandy Doyle, policy director for the Prometheus Radio Project, told Raw Story. “That way we won’t have these big corporate chains and media networks that are taking over the rest of the media landscape moving in on low power FM service. These stations have to be local, and they have to be independent. This clears the way for a real transformation of the FM dial.”

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Prometheus Radio Project: FCC Decision Opens Radio Airwaves for Communities Nationwide

The announcement concludes the first hurdle in implementing the Local Community Radio Act, passed by Congress in 2010 after a decade-long grassroots campaign. The FCC is on track to accept applications for new Low Power FM (LPFM) stations nationwide as early as Fall 2012. Community groups are gearing up to apply for the licenses, which will be available only to locally-based non-profit organizations.

“For our migrant communities here in Arizona, community radio would give a voice to people who rarely get to speak for ourselves in the media,” said Carlos Garcia, Lead Organizer with Puente Arizona. "Anti-immigrant voices dominate the airwaves. Community radio can help us tell our own stories, share news and information, and get organized."

Broadcast radio remains one of the most accessible means of communication in the US, with 90% of Americans listening at least once a week.

"Radio is a great tool for reaching working people - it's free to listen, easy to produce, and people can often tune in on the job or while doing housework," said Milena Velis, Media Organizer and Educator with Philadelphia-based Media Mobilizing Project. “In Pennsylvania, we're facing big challenges, from education cuts to rural poverty to environmentally destructive shale drilling. We see community radio as a way to bring people together and create solutions from the ground up."

Low power community stations are non-commercial and cost as little as $10,000 to launch, putting these stations within reach of many communities who have limited access to other media outlets.

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