Low Power FM Radio Stations Bring Diversity to the Airwaves

Media & Tech 04.24,09

Yesterday, owners and news directors of low power FM (LPFM) radio stations, along with media diversity activists and civil rights advocates, met in Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, which will lift restrictions on the FCC’s ability to license LPFM stations and allow more low power stations to go on the air.

LPFM stations are non-commercial, community-based radio stations that operate at very low power and have a range of only a few miles.  They provide news and information that address specific interests of local communities and play an important role in broadcasting emergency information relating to inclement weather, natural disasters, and other public safety needs.

In a new report, Low Power Radio: Lost Opportunity or Success on the Dial? , LCCR says that allowing the FCC to license more LPFM stations will provide an opportunity for greater diversity of ownership and content among FM radio stations.

Currently, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population, but they own only 7.2 percent of all full-power radio and TV stations. Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but own less than 6 percent of full-power commercial radio and TV stations.

In 2000, Congress passed a law that limited the number of licenses that the FCC could issue to LPFM stations, in order to protect full-power stations from interference.  However, the law also required the FCC to hire an independent contractor to review technical issues related to LPFM signals and determine if the restrictions were actually needed.

The Mitre Corporation, which conducted the study in 2003, found no significant problems caused by LPFM signals and recommended that Congress lift the restrictions on LPFM licenses.