WASHINGTON - The Local Community Radio Act, which will help increase the number of low power FM (LPFM) stations in the United States, is poised to become law following passage in the House of Representatives on Friday, and passage in the Senate on Saturday.
Low power FM (LPFM) refers to community-based, non-commercial FM stations that operate at 100 watts or less and have a broadcast reach of only a few miles. There are currently 800 LPFM stations being used by churches, schools, nonprofits, and other community groups. These stations provide a local forum for important news and discussions.
However, LPFM is not fully available to many communities across the country because a law passed in 2000 limits the Federal Communications Commission's authority to license LPFMs. The Local Community Radio Act allows the FCC to increase the number of new LPFM licenses.
"A town without a community radio station is like a town without a library," said Pete Tridish of the Prometheus Radio Project. "Many a small town dreamer – starting with a few friends and bake sale cash – has successfully launched a low power station, and built these tiny channels into vibrant town institutions that spotlight school board elections, breathe life into the local music scene, allow people to communicate in their native languages, and give youth an outlet to speak."
The Act was a major priority for the civil and human rights community. Its passage was the result of a 10-year effort by a large, diverse and broad-based coalition that included The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Free Press, United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc. (UCC OC, Inc.), U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Media Access Project, the Future of Music Coalition, the Media and Democracy Coalition, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Prometheus National Advisory Committee and Board of Directors and many community radio stations around the country.
"It is rewarding beyond words that the Local Community Radio Act will finally become law. The American people who have heretofore been excluded from the media will have their chance," said Cheryl Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor.
In an April 2009 report, "Low Power Radio: Lost Opportunity or Success on the Dial?," The Leadership Conference said that allowing the FCC to license more LPFM stations will provide an opportunity for greater diversity of ownership and content among FM radio stations.
The report states:
"Media consolidation is driving out the few remaining small stations — which often are owned or run by women and people of color, and which provide programming not available anywhere else. Fewer people owning more stations and making more decisions means less diversity of views, news, and programming. Low power radio is one part of the answer to bringing women and people of color into the civic discussion via the airwaves and to expanding choices for listeners."