The Return of Low-Power FM

Does a tiny station in Nashville signal the future of community radio?

| May 5, 2005

In recent years, consolidation of the airwaves (think Clear Channel, which owns and operates more than 1,200 stations) has proved a sizable threat to community radio. Locally run stations are shut down when larger broadcasters cry 'interference,' and to cut costs, corporate-owned 'local stations' are often run hundreds of miles away from the communities they serve. That means citizens hear less local news and less about local happenings -- ultimately cutting people off from ways to get involved in their communities.

Jim Ridley, writing for Nashville Scene, documents a hard-won victory for community radio -- the launch of Radio Free Nashville. Now one month old, it is Nashville's only community-owned and -operated radio station. Much of its programming is decidedly liberal (the 'Democracy Now' broadcaster is the state's only Pacifica Radio affiliate). But its programs range from the political to the musical ('pulp country' on Wednesdays, funk on Thursdays, hoedown on Fridays) to the entirely apolitical (including Will Reynolds' weekly NASCAR report and fire department lieutenant Walter Bell's Monday morning multicharacter radio plays about fire safety).

The success of Radio Free Nashville, a low-power FM station (LPFM) broadcasting on a 100-watt signal, may soon be echoed by others. While current Federal Communications Commission regulations make it difficult to acquire LPFM licenses -- largely because of bullying by the National Association of Broadcasters -- several pro-independent media organizations are drawing attention to LPFM's potential. Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based organization whose volunteers helped get Radio Free Nashville up and running, provides detailed information about LPFM, including how to apply for a license and how to wrangle with the FCC.

There's hope on the legislative front as well. In February, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Local Community Radio Act of 2005. The bill would expand LPFM service nationwide, easing the burden on would-be LPFM stations to prove noninterference with commercial broadcasters.

Radio Free Nashville's slogan, 'Low power for the people,' may indeed hail the future of community radio.

Go there >> Low Power to the People

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