It appears that the U.S. Senate may be moving toward a floor vote on the Local Community Radio Act. This bill originally began under the auspices of undoing the Congressional fiat in 2001 which severely restricted the promulgation of new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. By imposing draconian channel-spacing regulations on the new service, LPFM stations were precluded from being sited in areas of the nation in which 80% of the population lives.
The Local Community Radio Act has been the focus of a seven-year campaign to right this wrong. Most importantly, it would relax channel-spacing rules for LPFM stations (allowing them to be placed in more urban areas) and give LPFM stations a semblance of parity with regard to other classes of FM station. This would make LPFMs less susceptible to being bumped off the air by a larger station looking to move or otherwise modify its own transmission infrastructure.
Recently, former federal judge Michael Mukasey was nominated to be the next Attorney General of the United States. There’s lots of punditry going on within the mainstream media about his past legal leanings (surprise, they’re reactionary!), but Mukasey’s also been involved in microradio case law to a degree not experienced by any other contemporary Attorney General. It was back in 1998, when the Steal This Radio collective preemptively sued the Federal Communications Commission in hopes of stopping a station raid or other major, life-threatening enforcement action.
STR’s lawsuit was not the most well-thought-out piece of legal argument. It took a shotgun approach to the FCC’s licensing authority: some claims alleged the Communications Act itself was unconstitutional because it gave the FCC excessive latitude to restrict access to the airwaves via the licensing mechanism; one claim specifically attacked the practice of auctioning off commercial radio licenses for limiting “free expression” only to those who can afford it. Another posited the radio spectrum as a public forum, which necessitated the strictest scrutiny of government attempts to regulate it; under such analysis, the broadcast licensing regime was overly restrictive and therefore also unconstitutional.
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of free103point9, which initially began as a microradio station spinning interesting sounds from Brooklyn, New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood. It’s come a long way since then:
Largely blank slates, with little in the way of station identification or DJs talking back just-played records, experimental sounds of all sorts spilled out. The concept of “radio art” was just barely beginning to be explored…at that time….[T]he other inspiration behind starting the station was that the radio airwaves were dead zones that needed to be revived. The best way to locally communicate thoughts and new ideas was being wasted by a handful of corporations intent on turning the nation’s airwaves into private mints printing billions of dollars, polluting those airwaves as if they were pouring nuclear waste into national parks. …