Just after 5 p.m. today (Saturday, Dec. 18), the U.S. Senate passed the Local Community Radio Act by unanimous consent. The historic vote culminates a decade-long struggle to relax industry-imposed restrictions on licensing and operating low-power FM community radio stations.
The Senate action follows Friday’s approval of an amended version of LCRA by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.
“This is a day we have dreamed of since 2003 when MAIN launched its low-power FM station for Asheville and Buncombe County, only to discover that FCC rules pushed by commercial broadcast lobbyists restricted our signal to only 2 watts, instead of the 100 watts for which we are licensed,” said Wally Bowen, MAIN’s founder and executive director.
“Passage of this bill gives the FCC the green light to issue new rules that will allow us to broadcast at a full 100 watts. We eagerly await these new rules,” Bowen said.
Bowen applauded the efforts of media reform allies such as Prometheus Radio, Free Press, Media Access Project, and the Media & Democracy Coalition for spearheading the effort to win passage of the bill during Congress’s lame-duck session. MAIN was elected to the Media & Democracy Coalition in 2008.
“I especially want to thank all of our supporters who contributed to the recent ‘Save Our Sound’ campaign to keep MAIN-FM on the air. We are so grateful that their faith and support will soon be rewarded by much-improved reception of the MAIN-FM signal,” Bowen said.
MAIN-FM first went on the air in October, 2003, as WPVM 103.5 FM, the Progressive Voice of the Mountains. With the restrictive FCC rules limiting the station’s signal to only 2 watts, the station has never been consistently heard in downtown Asheville or in the city’s neighborhoods north of downtown and beyond. The station changed its name to MAIN-FM in 2009 to prevent confusion that the radio station and MAIN are separate entities.
With a power increase to 100 watts, Bowen estimated that MAIN-FM’s signal will be heard throughout Buncombe County, into Hendersonville, and possibly as far north as Mars Hill.
Congress first authorized the FCC to begin issuing low-power FM (LPFM) radio licenses to local nonprofits in 2000 when commercial broadcast lobbyists slipped the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” into an omnibus spending bill. The “poison-pill” bill, which President Clinton reluctantly signed, limited LPFM licenses to rural communities and smaller cities, thereby protecting commercial broadcasters from LPFM competition in all the major US media markets.
Today’s passage of the Local Community Radio Act will free the FCC to issue LPFM licenses in most American cities, while relaxing restrictions on existing LPFM stations like MAIN-FM.