Those still hoping for a meaningful low power radio service in the United States received a boost in morale last week when Arizona Senator John McCain introduced the "Low Power Radio Act of 2001."
The bill, officially named S. 404, would repeal the restrictions placed on the FCC's new LPFM service by Congress late last year. It would also require the FCC to quickly investigate complaints of interference between new LPFM and full-power stations.
McCain's legislation also contains a provision designed to keep full-power stations from bullying the new "little guys" around: under his plan, if a complaint is found to be unwarranted, the station who brought the action could be subject to a stiff fine - and the money would be given to the LPFM station targeted by the complaint.
In introducing S. 404 on the Senate floor, McCain commented, "Last Congress, special interest forces opposed to low-power FM radio, most notably the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio, mounted a vigorous behind-the-scenes campaign to kill low-power FM radio.
And unfortunately, these special interests succeeded in attaching an appropriations rider in the dead of the night--without a single debate on the floor of the Senate--that effectively did just that. Mr. President, the Low Power Radio Act of 2001 seeks to remedy this derailment of the democratic process."
All of this sounds dandy, and it's nice to see Senator McCain come full-circle on the low power radio issue (from an early opponent to a full-fledged supporter), but the chances of his bill making it into law - and undoing last year's damage - are just about nil.
While McCain is a powerful ally to have on radio-related issues, he cannot singlehandedly move legislation through Congress. Even if McCain were to somehow get his bill through the Senate, the House of Representatives would stomp all over it.
With radio industry-friendly Louisiana Representative Billy Tauzin now serving as the virtual gatekeeper on all communications-related legislation, the chances of McCain's bill getting voted on in the House are about as good as a snowball surviving in the bayou.
McCain's attempt to resurrect a viable low power radio service is too little, too late - much of the active grassroots support has deserted the LPFM crusade, and the number of unlicensed stations being put on the air is rising.