The Digital Beat v.1 no. 8

Gary Handman (
Fri, 28 May 1999 12:11:49 -0700 (PDT)

>Radio Today
>FCC Proposal
>Call To Action
>A robust democracy is dependent on open and accessible forums for debate,
>forums in which the widest range of views can be expressed. For much of this
>century, communities around the nation have depended on radio as a vital
>venue for discussion, as well as an outlet for local music and community
>Even with the potential of the Internet and other new media to become
>democratizing forces in the Information Age, the cost of equipment and
>connections can make cyberspace a prohibitively expensive place to enter --
>especially for the most disenfranchised Americans. While prices for low-end
>computers are falling to near $500, monthly Internet access fees are
>necessary as well and easily cost an additional two hundred dollars per
>A transistor radio, on the other hand, can be purchased for mere
>dollars, and requires no additional fees for the consumer."Radio is one of
>cheapest forms of communication you can find," said Napoleon Williams, who
>operated an unlicensed radio station until it was shut down by the Federal
>Communications Commission. "Homeless people don't have nothin', but they
>a radio."[1] Because of its low-cost, radio is one of the most ubiquitous
>of mass media. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, the average
>listens to over three hours of radio a day.
>Unfortunately, recent changes in the industry and regulatory environment
>have resulted in increasing homogenization of the voices and sounds on the
>radio dial. Commenting on the current climate of consolidation, Robert
>Unmacht -- editor of a weekly newsletter about radio -- said that while
>there are still a lot of stations in this country, "in most of the markets,
>it's two or three people dominating the marketplace." [2]
>Many advocate that an answer to the growing corporatization of radio is to
>allow communities and individuals to operate low-power radio stations that
>cost much less to build and operate than full-power stations. Radio could
>become a vital tool for community discourse if people had a greater stake
>in the
>production of programming, say supporters of low-power broadcasting. Cities,
>churches, individuals, small businesses, and community groups have submitted
>thousands of letters to the Federal Communications Commission asking for the
>creation of a new class of radio license, low-power radio, that would end
>the 21 year ban on microbroadcasting.
>When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, most discussion focused
>on its potential ramifications on telephone and television services, but is
>it perhaps radio that has changed most dramatically since the landmark Act.
>Over the past few years, unprecedented consolidation has led to the
>creation of corporate radio giants that are enjoying record advertising
>revenues, while nearly crushing the diversity and localism that have long
>been hallmarks of American radio.
>Today, the voices on the radio dial no longer reflect the diversity of
>voices in the American landscape. The sale of nearly 30 black-owned stations
>in the years following the 1996 Act resulted in the largest drop in
>minority-ownership of radio stations since the federal government began
>tracking in the early 1990s.[3] While almost one-fourth of this nation's
>inhabitants are non-white, only 1.5 percent of radio outlets are owned by
>minorities. [4] "In a country that receives such a benefit from having a
>melting pot...we lose that richness when the media are largely owned by one
>segment of the population," said Federal Communications Commissioner Susan
>Radio has strayed far from its deep local roots. "A tidal wave of
>consolidation generated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996's loosening of
>ownership limits has put most big- and medium-market stations under the
>control of a handful of huge corporations, which have shown little interest
>in paying for local newsgathering," writes Marc Fisher in the June 1998
>issue of American Journalism Review. Fisher explains that in most of the top
>75 markets, it is common for radio stations to use one of two national
>services that "provide not only traffic and weather reports, but also the
>newscasts on virtually all the stations in town."[5] Regulatory and
>technological changes have made it increasingly possible for large radio
>groups to create hometown reports for dozens of stations simultaneously from
>a central location hundreds of miles away. "The local angle just gets lost
>completely," says Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the public interest
>law firm Media Access Project (MAP).
>On January 28, 1999, the Federal Communications Commission responded to
>growing concerns about the diminishing number of voices on the air by
>proposing rules to create three new classes of radio licenses based on the
>power of the stations ranging from 1-1000 watts. The Notice of Proposed
>Rulemaking to create a Low Power Radio Service reads, "In creating these new
>classes of stations, our goals are to address unmet needs for
>community-oriented radio broadcasting, foster opportunities for new radio
>broadcast ownership, and promote additional diversity in radio voices and
>program services."
>The first proposed class would provide licenses for stations operating at
>1000 watts with a ranges of more than eight miles, "enabling service to
>mobile listeners and to people living on farms or ranches in the vicinity of
>small rural communities." The second class, 50-100 watt stations, would have
>a signal range of around three miles from the station. These lower power
>stations could serve more moderate sized communities. Finally, the NPRM also
>seeks comment on the creation of 1-10 watt "microradio" service -- with a
>range of one to two miles -- that could serve schools or neighborhoods. This
>class of license might be particularly useful where 100 watt stations could
>not be located due to interference concerns or financial constraints.
>The possible applications for microradio are limitless. Immigrant groups,
>for example, could broadcast news and cultural programming in their native
>language. Residents of a public housing project could share information
>regarding neighborhood services. Schools could broadcast news, live sporting
>events, and other important information, while providing students with the
>technical skills to produce shows themselves.
>Several organizations have already articulated their support for the
>creation of low power radio stations to serve their communities. Cities from
>Saldia (CO) to Gainsville (FL) have passed resolutions in support of
>low-power radio. According to a New York Times article, the Navajo Nation is
>looking to a possible new class of radio licenses to help provide essential
>communications services to their rural population "with broadcasts in the
>Navajo language tailored to concerns like health (diabetes is a major
>issue), education and culture."[6]
>Established broadcasters, represented in Washington by the powerful National
>Association of Broadcasters, are vehemently opposing the creation of
>low-power radio licenses. According to NAB President Eddie Frits, "The
>proposal will likely cause devastating broadcasters."
>Microradio advocates, however, dismiss these concerns as a mere red-hearing
>introduced by station owners who fear losing audience and advertising
>dollars to fledgling community broadcasters.
>In response to claims that legalization of low-power stations will result in
>spectrum chaos, mircobroadcasters point out that in countries like Canada,
>Japan, Argentina, Ireland and Italy -- where low-power is legal -- the
>airwaves have not succumb to cacophony. Our neighbors to the north, in fact,
>have long allowed small community radio stations to flourish without peril
>to the rest of the radio dial. Today, there are over 300 stations that
>broadcast in over six languages to the indigenous peoples of Northern
>Canada. Even in populous cities such as Toronto and Quebec, which boast some
>of the most crowded radio dials in North American, low-power and full-power
>stations have thrived side-by-side. [7]
>Low-power radio could provide unique opportunities for community-oriented
>broadcasting and promote greater diversity on the radio spectrum.
>Additionally, community-based stations could become important forums for
>debate about local issues. FCC Chairman William Kennard said, "We cannot
>deny opportunities to those who want to use the airwaves to speak to their
>communities simply because it might be inconvenient for those who already
>have these opportunities."
>While there is support within the Commission for the creation of a new class
>of low-power radio stations, the FCC is facing considerable pressure from
>broadcasters and their friends in Congress to kill the proposed rules. At
>the request of the NAB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National
>Public Radio, the FCC has extended the period for public comment on the
>Notice of Proposed Rule Making on low-power radio until August 1st. This is
>the second time that broadcasters have successfully persuaded the FCC to
>delay the rulemaking on this issue. It is possible that this process could
>drag on for years, if broadcasters do not derail it all together.
>There are also concern about how licenses will be assigned if there are
>competing applications. In the last few years, auctions have been the
>favored method of a budget-conscious Congress. If low-power license are
>granted though auctions, however, it will drive up start-up costs and could
>prevent access to the air waves for the very groups the proposal hopes to
>aid. Community-based, religious, educational and other nonprofit
>organizations could be barred from low-power radio if they are forced to bid
>against commercial entities for licenses.
>It is essential that individuals who already have access to the airwaves not
>dominate this debate. The FCC needs to hear from a variety of voices on the
>issue of low power radio service. Comments to the NPRM (DOCKET MM 99-25) on
>low power radio may be filed electronically via the FCC Web Site
>(, or sent to the following address:
>Magalie Roman Salas
>Office of the Secretary
>Federal Communications Commission
>The Portals
>445 Twelfth Street S.W.
>Washington, DC 20554
>Additional Information about Low-Power Radio is available online at:
>Prometheus Radio Project
>Civil Rights Forum
>National Association of Broadcasters
>American's For Radio Diversity
>Radio Four All
>1. David Burke, 'I'm still saying, can you hear me?' Decatur Herald & Review.
>2. Anthony DeBarros, Consolidation Changes Face of Radio, USA Today, 7 July
>3. Anthony DeBarros, Consolidations Changes Face of Radio, USA Today, 7 July
>When Being Number One Is Not Enough: The Impact of Advertising Practices on
>Minority-Owned & Minority-Formatted Broadcast Stations, a report prepared by
>the Civil Rights Forum on Communications, Kofi Asiedu Ofori, Principal
>Investigator, 1993.
>4. Dan Schechter, (low)Power to the People, The Nation, 24 May 1999.
>5. Marc Fisher, Blackout On The Dial, American Journalism Review, June 1998.
>6.Andrea Adelson, Disputed Radio Plan Stirs Hope in Navajo Land, The New
>York Times, 22 February 1999.
>7.Charles Fairchild, FCC and Community Radio, Z Magazine, July 1997.
>(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication - both
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Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley 94720-6000

"Everything wants to become television" (James Ulmer -- Teletheory)