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2009-10-28

House Advances Measure to Create Hundreds of New Low Power FM Radio Stations

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The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 is on its way to a full House vote after sailing through the Energy and Commerce Committee with little opposition. The measure would repeal legislation which requires the FCC to protect full-power broadcasters from interference from Low Power FM stations being placed on third-adjacent channels. We speak to Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle, a co-sponsor of the bill; and Cory Fischer-Hoffman, campaign director of the Prometheus Radio Project. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We end today looking at a bill making its way through Congress that would allow for the creation of hundreds of new Low Power FM stations. The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 is on its way to a full House vote after sailing through the Energy and Commerce Committee with little opposition. The measure would repeal legislation which requires the FCC to protect full-power broadcasters from interference from Low Power FM stations being placed on third-adjacent channels.

Democratic Congress member Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh is co-sponsor of the bill. He joins us from Washington, DC. We’re also joined in the firehouse studio by Cory Fischer-Hoffman, campaign director of the Prometheus Radio Project.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with you, Cory. Explain the bill that just passed.

CORY FISCHER-HOFFMAN:

So, the Local Community Radio Act would repeal unfair restrictions that were placed on the service back in 2000 because broadcasters were claiming that low power radio stations would cause interference on full-power stations. However, there has been conclusive evidence from a 2003 MITRE report study that shows that interference is not an issue. And so, these restrictions would be removed through the Local Community Radio Act, opening up the airwaves to hundreds, potentially thousands, of more community radio stations across the country.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mike Doyle, talk about the significance of the passage from subcommittee through the full committee, now going to the House floor, and how you got involved with this as a congressman from Pittsburgh.

REP. MIKE DOYLE:

Well, in my city of Pittsburgh, there are no chances for local community broadcasts like this. This is a unique opportunity to give a voice to people who don’t have a voice right now on the radio. There simply weren’t slots at third-adjacent in the city of Pittsburgh, so larger areas that have lots of big AM and FM full-power stations, it’s impossible for local community radio stations to have a slot on the dial because of this so-called interference issue, which the MITRE study proved to not be an issue at all.

It’s been a long process. We’ve been fought every step of the way by the big broadcasters, who didn’t want this bill to pass. But finally, I think the overwhelming evidence of the study and, on three separate occasions, unanimous votes by the FCC saying that Congress should move forward on this finally brought us to a point where we were able to get this bill up in subcommittee and full committee and pass it. And I’m excited to say that we hope to have this bill on the House floor by the end of the month. And it’s really important that people get in touch with their Congress people in their districts and make sure that they vote for this legislation.

AMY GOODMAN:

Cory, talk about the whole movement for Low Power FM — who can apply, for example, for these licenses? — why people should call their Congress members now, why you feel this is important. Who gets these radio stations?

CORY FISCHER-HOFFMAN:

Absolutely. Well, low power radio stations are licensed only to non-commercial community organizations, like churches, schools, nonprofit groups. So, just last week, the Prometheus Radio Project, the organization that I work with, got a call from an immigrant organization in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a community that’s absolutely infamous for its anti-immigrant ordnances. So community groups, as Representative Doyle said, that have been marginalized from controlling the media could have access to the airwaves for the first time.

And so, we see organizations like CHIRP, the Chicago Independent Radio Project, which has organized for local, vibrant media coverage in their own community, so that they can promote independent musicians, they can have local news and affairs. They are organizing to get one of these licenses.

There are already over 800 existing Low Power FM radio stations licensed to community organizations across the country, like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Radio Conciencia in Southwest Florida, for example, is broadcasting information in Spanish, but also in Haitian Creole, in Kaqchikel, in Quiche, a number of indigenous languages, so that the communities there have access to information as they organize against sub-poverty wages in the fields of Immokalee, Florida.

AMY GOODMAN:

Congressman Doyle, this bill is unusual in the level of bipartisan support it has. Why does it appeal to Congress members across the aisle?

REP. MIKE DOYLE:

Well, I think it appeals to members of Congress — Republican, Democrat and liberal conservative; it is an odd group of bedfellows here — because it gives access to groups that have been marginalized on both sides. If you’re interested in civil rights, this is a great bill, because it gives voice to civil rights groups. Religious groups of all persuasions would have access to the airwaves. Local college campuses would have access to the airwaves — labor unions, community groups. It just spans the whole docket, Republican, Democrat, left to right, of groups out there in the local communities that didn’t have a voice previous to this. I think that’s its appeal. And that’s why we’re very optimistic that when we get it on the House floor, we can get it passed.

But I want to take this opportunity to let viewers know that they can go on the internet to www.freepress.net/lpfm and put their zip code in, and they’ll get information on who their member of Congress is. And we urge people to contact them, because this will come up on the House floor in the next couple of weeks, and we have to make sure we get a large vote for it in the House to give it momentum in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN:

And what is happening in the Senate right now, Congressman Doyle?

REP. MIKE DOYLE:

Well, there’s a companion bill in the Senate. We’re very optimistic that if we can send this bill by the end of the month to the Senate with a big vote, that it’s going to give us the momentum we need to get the Senate to act. We have strong backers in the Senate. The time has come to give low power to the people, and this is our opportunity to do it. So while we have this momentum, we want to move forward and see if we can get this done by the end of the year.

AMY GOODMAN:

Cory Fischer-Hoffman, you’ve dubbed this month “Actober”?

CORY FISCHER-HOFFMAN:

Absolutely. We’re asking everyone, as Representative Doyle said, to contact their Congress people. You can go to Free Press’s website, an organization that has been key in this fight for low power radio, as well as the Future of Music Coalition, who’s been organizing with us. We’re asking people to contact their representatives and say, “Please support HR 1147. We want to have a local voice in our community. We want to be able to share local news and information.”

We know that this is essential not only to have local news and information, but also to broadcast perspectives that aren’t often heard on the mainstream media. For many of your viewers and listeners, Democracy Now! is broadcast on numerous Low Power FM radio stations. So it’s absolutely essential that people take action this month and push this legislation forward.

AMY GOODMAN:

And who are the forces arrayed against you, against the media democracy movement?

CORY FISCHER-HOFFMAN:

Well, in the past, the National Association of Broadcasters, representing some of the biggest industry side and corporate media, have been opposed to this legislation. And while they haven’t come out in support of it, we’ve seen a lot of the opposition neutralized, because the 2003 MITRE report shows conclusively that their technical concerns of interference are really not valid concerns. So, while we feel like their concerns were really around not wanting small local community groups to compete with these big stations, we feel like this legislation is wildly popular. It’s bipartisan. It’s moving forward with a broad base of support within the media justice movement, and we see its passage on the horizon.

AMY GOODMAN:

And you predict, Mike Doyle, in Congress, these forces that have been traditionally arrayed against, coming out now as this bill goes to the floor and how you deal with the commercial broadcasters as media concentrates at the same time as it looks like you’re making a move towards decentralization?

REP. MIKE DOYLE:

Well, we just want to — we want to err on the side of caution. It’s correct that the forces arrayed against this bill have been silent during the markups in subcommittee and full committee. They have not taken an active role in opposing the bill, even though they don’t support it. We’ve tried to work with groups like National Public Radio to make some changes in the bill to try to gain their support, and they’ve been appreciative of those changes. But we don’t want to take anything for granted. We don’t want a situation where that bill gets on the floor, and NAB, if they are working members and we’re not aware of it — I just think we’re trying to err on the side of caution.

We believe we have a broad coalition of members of Congress that want to support this bill and that we’re on our way to a big vote. There’s no outward indication of opposition from the traditional groups that have opposed it in the past, so that’s all good news. But we want to make sure, once that bill gets on the floor, that we don’t get caught napping. So we’re asking all our supporters to make sure they contact their members of Congress and make sure they support 1147 when it gets to the floor.

AMY GOODMAN:

Cory, the campaign’s website?

CORY FISCHER-HOFFMAN:

ExpandLPFM.org.

AMY GOODMAN:

That’s Low Power FM. I want to thank you both for being with us. Cory Fischer-Hoffman, campaign director of the Prometheus Radio Project, which is based in Philadelphia, and Congress member Mike Doyle, Democratic Congress member from Pittsburgh, the lead co-sponsor of the Local Community Radio Act, thanks for joining us from DC.

REP. MIKE DOYLE:

Thanks, Amy.

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