FCC Accepts LPFM Petitions
Nickolaus and Judith Leggett weren't notables in the radio industry until they formally petitioned the FCC to re-establish low power radio licenses. Just two radio enthusiasts in Virginia - but the couple recognized the glaring lack of localism in radio and struck on an idea to fix the problem.
With the help of former Capitol Hill lobbyist and Connecticut attorney Don Schellhardt (who has no background in radio but was similarly concerned about the state of the media), the three filed a petition with the FCC to consider their idea. It called for low-power AM and FM stations, ranging from one to 100 watts, and an ownership restriction of five stations maximum.
The goal, according to the Leggetts and Schellhardt, was to foster "the ties of community identity...in urban neighborhoods, rural towns, and other communities which are currently too small to win much attention from mainstream, ratings-driven media."
It would be a perfect outlet to "experiment with new ideas" and expand community dialogue, "without running the financial risk that a larger station might incur."
This proposal struck a chord with a Federal Communications Commission populated with appointments made by President Clinton. The most influential of these was Chairman William Kennard, the FCC's former top Legal Counsel - and, ironically, the man who oversaw the case of Stephen Dunifer and Free Radio Berkeley.
The Leggetts and Schellhardt envisioned microstations as being catalysts to bring people together while increasing public access to and diversity on the dial.
Kennard saw the benefits of such an idea, and the Commission voted to proceed with the proposal. It was assigned the official title RM-9208 on February 5, 1998.
Meanwhile, Rodger Skinner, a broadcast engineer with more than 30 years of experience in the industry and the owner of a low power television station, was also pondering the viability of low power radio.
Skinner had extensive experience dealing with the FCC. He wrote the original proposal that gave radio stations the right to place small transmitters in tunnels, helping them to avoid the signal loss that often happened when cars passed through.
He had also been attempting to get a license with the FCC for his own full-power radio station in various places in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S., but without success. Skinner's own desires, in combination with his massive amount of technical expertise, led to him file his own low power radio petition.
Skinner's petition, filed seven months after the first, proposed a new class of "radio entrepreneur" on the airwaves. He wanted FM stations ranging in power from 50 to 3,000 watts, with a national ownership cap of three stations.
Skinner, too, gave a nod to those who had helped force the FCC into a position to consider his plea. "There are many throughout America today willing to risk severe punishment just to be heard," he wrote. "As an observer, I fear that to ignore this large number of citizens...and deny them a voice could have severe repercussions in the future."
Because Skinner backed up his idea with credible engineering data to show it was feasible, the FCC decided to consider his proposal as well - assigning it the title RM-9242 on February 20, 1998.