Ralph Nader Speaks Out for Low-power Radio

The airwaves belong to the people. Yet the U.S. government gives them away to television and radio broadcasters for free, and demands virtually nothing in return. We have forfeited many of the means of mass communication to concentrated corporate interests, consigning ourselves to homogenized low-grade entertainment and lower-grade copy-cat “newstainment” that barely aspires to inform let alone energize our eroding democracy. The major television networks are owned by giant conglomerates – General Electric, Disney, Viacom, Fox, Time Warner. Radio is even worse, with Infinity and Clear Channel dominating the airwaves.

The airwaves belong to the people. Yet the U.S. government gives them away to television and radio broadcasters for free, and demands virtually nothing in return. We have forfeited many of the means of mass communication to concentrated corporate interests, consigning ourselves to homogenized low-grade entertainment and lower-grade copy-cat “newstainment” that barely aspires to inform let alone energize our eroding democracy. The major television networks are owned by giant conglomerates – General Electric, Disney, Viacom, Fox, Time Warner. Radio is even worse, with Infinity and Clear Channel dominating the airwaves.

Yet technology keeps offering us new opportunities to learn from the past, and ensure that new media deepens our democracy and serves public, noncommercial interests.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently authorized non-commercial low power FM radio broadcasts. Low power FM (LPFM) has the potential to strengthen community organization and enrich public life, by permitting genuinely local broadcasting to serve the needs of local audiences.

Not surprisingly, the powerful National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is trying to block LPFM. The NAB hopes to leverage its enormous political influence to slip a provision to block the FCC’s authorization of LPFM into a “rushed-through-Congress-at the-end-of-the-legislative-year” funding” bill.

The NAB wants to make sure that grassroots challenges to its dominance of the airwaves do not emerge.

Right now, if they air regular news at all, most major-market radio stations do not even produce their own news. Instead, they rely on outside services that may be thousands of miles from the people that they’re supposed to serve. Some communities aren’t represented in media at all: One news director doesn’t bother to cover poor neighborhoods because they “might as well be in another dimension.” Another dimension, he means, from the wealthier audience the station’s sponsors and owners care about.

Low power FM offers the opportunity to offset commercial radio’s inadequacies, decentralize broadcasting and empower neighborhoods and communities. Labor union locals will be able to broadcast to their members; communities will have a radio forum to debate and discuss local issues; ethnic groups will be able to air programming to meet their particular needs, including non-English broadcasting; senior citizen centers will be able to reach seniors who cannot make it to the centers’ physical facilities; local government meetings can be broadcast to the community. Under the FCC’s plan, 1,000 or more 100-watt stations serving areas with a 3.5 mile radius, plus additional 10-watt stations serving a 1-2 mile radius, could be licensed.

The NAB contends that low power stations will interfere with the quality of existing stations’ sound. But the FCC, which is not known for hostility to the industry it regulates with kid gloves, has concluded that its licensing arrangement for LPFM will not cause unacceptable levels of interference to existing radio stations.

There is every reason to rely on the FCC’s assessment rather than the NAB’s. But it comes as no surprise that political decisions in Washington are often made on factors other than the merits, and there is now a serious risk that Congress will override the FCC’s plan. In the Senate, Senator Rod Grams, R-Minnesota, has introduced S. 3020, which would drastically scale back the FCC’s plan and is similar to a bill that passed the House of Representatives in April. Senator Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, has introduced a bill, S.2068, that would eliminate LPFM entirely. The greatest legislative threat, however, probably is posed by the possibility that anti-LPFM language will be inserted into a funding bill. That is the kind of backroom dealmaking in which NAB-style fat-cat lobbyists specialize.

Whether a tiny fragment of the public’s airwaves will be returned to the public for LPFM depends now on whether the public is ready to assert its interests. Call your senators, and tell them not to interfere with LPFM. A working democracy requires some public control of the means of communication.

For more information on LPFM and for breaking legislative news, contact the Media Access Project at (202) 232-4300, or check their web page at www.mediaaccess.org.

Further Interest: Background Information

Congress Guts Low Power FM – President Pledges Veto

On October 26 and 27, 2000 Congress added anti-LPFM language to the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill that will cut back 60%-80% of the low power radio stations. This is the same language that passed the House and was contained in Senator Grams’ bill, S.3020. This bill has passed both the House and Senate. As soon as the language was issued, however, the President promised to veto the bill, in part on the grounds that it includes the language harming low power radio.

After years of public comment and engineering studies, the combined pressure from media reformers and direct action activists prevailed to win a partial victory for community access to the radio airwaves. In January 2000 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to create new Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service. Since then thousands of excited folks in every state have invested precious time and resources engaging their communities to apply for local LPFM stations. Nearly 1300 applications have already been received by the FCC. However, after a long well-funded DC beltway insider campaign of lies and disinformation, the US Congress has tried to kill LPFM [permanantly].

Prometheus Radio Project

Prometheus Radio Project is calling for all LPFM supporters to SEND YOUR RADIOS to your Senators, along with a note telling them to tune in to constituent sentiment and turn off the static from the broadcast lobbyists. Late into October, the Senate attached Bill S.3020 to a large, unrelated appropriations bill to sneak it through without comment or hearings. We cannot allow this to happen! Pick up your phone today and call your Senator and demand that they unattach Bill S.3020 from any spending bills. Although LPFM service does not free the airwaves from corporate control, it is a start toward providing locally produced media to meet the needs, interests and concerns of local communities and neighborhoods. And there is likely a frequency available in your town. The dreams and hard work of thousands across the US will be for naught, however, if we allow the US Congress to bow to corporate pressure and kill LPFM!

Your Congressmembers have been sold a bill of goods by a team of twenty well-funded lobbyists from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) with support from National Public Radio (NPR). These finks have convinced your senators that Senate Bill S.3020 is compromise legislation. This is no compromise. It will dismember the LPFM service and neither you nor anyone else will have access to your airwaves. Bill S.3020, offered by Senator Grams (R-MN), would effectively destroy the LPFM initiative. It allows the FCC to create the new service, but allows only a handful of stations (instead of the 800+ expected) to be licensed. S.3020 masquerades as a compromise requiring field testing. While sounding vaguely reasonable, calls for field testing are just a political stalling tactic. The broadcasters real hope is that they will be able to do million dollar studies that grassroots organizations can not afford to counter. These engineering issues are not only clear, but were re-clarified by the FCC itself early into November in a 78 page Memorandum of Reconsideration mandating conservative regulations and oversight of LPFM.

Here is the latest news on LPFM as of 12-07-2000

While the lame duck Senate has reconviened to work on the budget,
LPFM has been given the back burner.

As it stands now LPFM is in limbo until the innauguration of the next presidential administration. Meanwhile the FCC is still sorting through the estimated 1200 current LPFM applications that have already been received. The FCC has also been ordered to delay any new announcements for upcoming filing windows.

While the Senate is busy trying to get their candidate in office, the current President has sent a message to congress by vetoing the budget appropriations bill that contained anti-LPFM legislation.

LPFM supporters should be writing letters to President Clinton asking him to Veto any appropriations bill that contains anti-LPFM legislation. Senators on the Commerce and Justice committee should also be contacted and urged to remove S3020 from the appropriations bill and give it due process. Tell them they are not doing their job representing the people because they are too busy listening to the soft money from lobbyists and large corporations.

Send Your Radios To Your Senators

(Old, unused, or broken ones are fine- radios that are smashed up may be even better!) The Senate staff is really busy right now, brokering back room deals, and they are listening to regular citizens even less than usual. But imagine what happens when they open up that box and find your broken radio in it- you¹ll be the talk of the office for the week! Spend a few minutes writing and a few bucks in postage to make your voice heard loud. The airwaves belong to the people, not corporate interests. We have no time to waste. The Senate will only be in session for a few more days. Make your Senator think twice before duping you. The survival of Low-Power FM (LPFM) depends on your action right now.

Your Senators need to hear from you. They have heard many times from the mega-media corporations and the NAB. Now they need to hear from the people they claim to represent — the public. Tell your Senators to leave low power FM radio alone. Unattach any restrictions on new low-power FM stations from appropriations bills.

Not sure who your Senator is? Visit Project Vote-Smart to find out.

Act now!!!

Prometheus Radio Project

Author: Ralph Nader

News Service: Prometheus Radio Project

URL: http://prometheus.tao.ca/artnader2.html