Path Cleared for Many New Community Radio Stations

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January 29, 2011; Source: Reuters | As more and more nonprofit online news and investigative sites are being established what is happening with radio? Community radio stations all over the country provide a venue for local news, commentary, and cultural expression but their existence depends upon the availability of low power channel space on the FM dial.

There are approximately 800 such stations across the country now compared to 13,000 commercial stations, but a law recently signed into effect by President Barack Obama will open up approximately 2,000 more spaces. The bill was backed by a coalition of nonprofits that spanned the political spectrum including the conservative Christian Coalition, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,, and Common Cause.

The measure essentially allows the low power stations to exist within three instead of four frequencies from already established stations. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has committed to moving quickly to help the new stations get established and the Prometheus Radio project is poised to help organizations submit applications.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters, which resisted the measure, speculates that many of the local stations will be established in rural or suburban areas rather than urban markets but a spokesperson for the Prometheus Radio Project suggested that their sights are set on all types of markets. “This law gives the FCC a new mandate to expand low power radio,” said Brandy Doyle, Prometheus’ Policy Director. “To finish the job, the FCC must ensure that these vital stations are available in the urban areas which have never had access to community radio.”

Betty Yu, of the Media Action Grassroots Network, says, “Civil rights groups and community organizations have wanted low power FM radio for years, and now the chance is here.” If the past is any indication of the future – more than half of existing low power radio stations are owned by churches – many of these new stations will be religious.—Ruth McCambridge