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Feature: New Year - Same Game

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1/1/01

2001 will be a very interesting year for the U.S. microradio movement. It is enjoying more popularity than ever even though a recent legalization effort was severely curtailed.

Unfortunately the long and protracted battle for low power radio licenses has come to a dismal end: commercial broadcasters and National Public Radio brought their full weight to bear to quash a two-year grassroots effort to add more voices to the dial.

FCC Commissioner Michael Powell is the likely candidate to become FCC Chairman this summer; Michael is the son of Colin Powell, President-elect George W. Bush's nominee for Secretary of State. Consider this: Shortly before the FCC approved the merger of AOL and Time Warner last year, Colin Powell moved much of his investments into AOL stock - and reaped a killing when the merger was approved by his son.

Michael Powell has not been a strong supporter of low power radio licensing, choosing to split his vote on the rulemaking last year.

Current Chairman William Kennard - the main backer of LPFM at the FCC - will be leaving his post in June. That will leave at least one opening on the five-member Commission. One of those in the running for that seat is former Minnesota Senator Rod Grams - the chief sponsor of the radio industry's successful drive to cripple the new service.

Even though he was voted out of office partially because of his opposition to new community radio stations, he might end up controlling communications policy in America anyway. Such is the nature of business in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, public radio groups are trumpeting their victory in Congress and continuing their rape of the public airwaves. Jim Paluzzi, General Manager of West Coast Public Radio and the point-man in NPR's drive to kill LPFM, sent out a gushing e-mail congratulating everyone who worked hard to keep people off the air.

"While it might be considered unseemly to bask in this victory, we owe it to ourselves to savor this moment as a testament to the power of partnership," he wrote. I hope he's sleeping well at night.

Then there's the commercial radio industry. The National Association of Broadcasters also gloated over its manipulation of Congress, its chief lobbyist, Eddie Fritts, has hired a bodyguard. There have been no known threats to Fritts, but as Jello Biafra once said, "A different route to work behind bulletproof glass each day; but hey, the more the hordes hate you the more status you've got."

The ultimate irony in all of this has to be the behavior of a corporate broadcaster in the nation's capital. Just days after Congress voted to cripple the low power radio proposal, Bonneville International announced that it's now using three frequencies in Washington D.C. to broadcast the same station. WTOP, Bonneville's news/talk outlet in the market, can now be heard on 820 AM, 1500 AM and 107.7 FM.

"I don't know of another radio station in Washington broadcasting on three different radio stations. This moves WTOP from a simulcast to a trimulcast," proudly proclaimed WTOP's general manager Joel Oxley.

When Congress did Big Broadcasting's bidding it prohibited any low power radio stations in Washington D.C. Yet large corporations can still hog frequencies at will. If you thought much has changed in the last year, think again.