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Feature: The History of LPFM
Part 12

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FCC Legalizes LPFM

On January 20, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission voted in a split-decision to create a low power FM radio service. Stations would have power levels between 1 and 100 watts, be entirely non-commercial, and would take advantage of only slightly reduced interference restrictions.

However, it was not clear how LPFM would fit into the FCC's pending action on digital audio broadcasting, or exactly how many usable frequencies would actually be opened in urban markets, the areas that needed the stations the most.

The first application window opened and closed in the beginning of June, 2000, netting more than 700 applications in the 10 states and two territories that were allowed to apply for the first licenses.

Ironically, after the rule was issued, religious organizations (including those who operated translator station networks) began applying like mad for open frequencies around the country. The most organized efforts to spread the word and knowledge about LPFM were led by the United Church of Christ and the Prometheus Radio Project. Local church groups also made up a sizeable segment of the first LPFM applicants.

Congress Moves to Kill

Following the FCC's decision to re-legalize Low Power FM (LPFM) radio stations in January 2000, Big Broadcasting's lobbyists went to work in Congress, kicking their effort to ban LPFM through rewriting law into high gear.

No tactic, it seemed, was out-of-bounds. The National Association of Broadcasters even went so far as to put together a compact disc filled with sample "sounds of interference" LPFM stations would cause and gave a copy to each member of Congress.

What the lawmakers didn't know, or understand, was the sounds they were hearing were artificially manufactured and, therefore, designed to mislead.  However, this CD was played nearly in its entirety in front of a House Subcommittee at an open hearing.  That act skirted the bounds of legality, but it definitely crossed the ethical line.

Nonetheless, a massive effort to try and debunk the propaganda fell short: on April 13, by a more than two-to-one margin, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3439, the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act."

The Act would have cut the number of open frequencies possible for LPFM station placement by more than 80% while placing the entire program under the control of Congress, who retained the option to shut the entire LPFM program down by as early as February of 2001.

The masterstroke that led to the House's passage of the anti-LPFM bill was an unlikely lobbying alliance between the NAB and National Public Radio, who also feared competition from the new LPFM stations. The joint effort hoodwinked liberal and conservative members of the House alike into voting for the bill.

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