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8/1/00

As often happens in Washington, there's a flurry of activity on an issue - then it drops from the spotlight for a while. Such has been the case with low power radio.

Ever since Arizona Senator John McCain threw up a Congressional roadblock on the greased rails that the National Association of Broadcasters had built for a bill to ban the FCC's re-legalization of low power FM stations, activity on Capitol Hill has dropped off.

Originally, many "inside the Beltway" felt that McCain's introduction of a separate LPFM bill - allowing the FCC's plan to continue yet opening up the new stations to huge lawsuits from commercial broadcasters, - was just a holding action designed to drain off the NAB's lobbying momentum.

It seems to have worked. Only 36 Senators have signed on to the broadcast industry's anti-LPFM bill that the House of Representatives has already approved, but most of those folks added their names to the List of Shame early on in the spring.

For nearly three months now, there has been little or no movement on the legislation. In fact, the NAB's sounding downright desperate for a change. Its most recent "Broadcaster Alert" sent out to its members even brings up the specter of defeat:

...we need action soon or this issue will be decided by inaction by Congress. If your senator is not a co-sponsor, this may be your last chance to turn him or her into one.

Senator McCain has since introduced a revised version of his "FM Radio Act of 2000," giving more of the final oversight of the LPFM project back to the FCC.

However, it is not clear if McCain plans to actually push his revised bill toward a vote. This would be a bad move, as it would still put the new LPFM stations at jeopardy of being maliciously sued off the air by big broadcasters.

Assassination Attempt: Not Dead

The hard-core Congressional enemies of low power radio, still in the pocket of the NAB, have plans to attempt to sneak an bill banning LPFM through by attaching it as a "rider" to a federal budget bill.

Leading the effort in the underhanded attempt is - not surprisingly - Louisiana Representative Billy Tauzin. He's long been fond of special interest money, especially from the radio business. A senior staffer of Tauzin's detailed the plan live, on the air, during an appearance last month on a California talk show.

Just last week Tauzin sent a final demand (co-signed by 10 other members of Congress) to FCC Chairman William Kennard to stop LPFM in its tracks, citing "a mountain of technical evidence that shows low-power FM stations create significant signal interference."

This 'mountain of evidence' is mostly made up of the NAB's deceptive and biased technical studies, which have previously been debunked by both FCC engineers and other parties.

Meanwhile, Tauzin's previous threats to investigate Kennard and the FCC for criminal activity in connection with its approval of LPFM have not materialized.

For its part, the FCC continues to play both sides of the fence well.  There's been indications of recent "enforcement sweeps" against unlicensed broadcasters in south Florida, which has traditionally been one of the most active FM "pirate" hotspots in the nation.

At the same time, it has announced the opening of a second LPFM application window for 11 more states at the end of this month. The first round of licenses could be issued this fall, with tentative plans being made to put the first legal LPFM station on the air in October.

Those fighting the fight on the air are also planning a busy fall. They're planning to get in the NAB's face when its radio members meet for their annual convention in San Francisco this September. If plans for the protest pan out, the protesters could outnumber the suits two-to-one.

Looks like the lull is over - let the renewed festivities begin!