On Saturday, the Senate finally passed the Local Community Radio Act, a bill I'd written about here. (The House has passed it before, and passed it again on Friday.) This is a tweak to communications law in the U.S. that's been ten years in coming, since big broadcasters pushed the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act through Congress because they objected to how the Federal Communications Commission was handing out licenses to small, low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. This isn't a perfect bill. In fact, the National Association of Broadcasters' lobbyists might want to use the concessions in it to justify their holiday bonuses. But LPFM's passage holds the possibility of bringing a greater diversity of voices to the airwaves, particularly in urban areas where the radio dial is too crowded for new full-power stations.
From here, things go to the FCC, and it's up to them to start actually licensing LPFM stations. And those aforementioned NAB-won concessions do place some real limits on how easily they'll be able to push out licenses. The Prometheus Radio Project has a good run-down of the particulars. For one thing, low-power radio stations will have to get a waiver to run a station two clicks away from full-power stations by proving that they're not likely to interfere with that station's broadcast. For another, it's now enshrined in law that low-power radio stations are second-class compared to full-power stations, when it comes to how the FCC manages their licensing. And for another, anyone who has operated a pirate radio station in the past is ineligible for one of these new LPFM licenses. But it's still a win for media diversity advocates, and a considerable one at that.
-- Nancy Scola