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Why Is Npr Fighting Public Radio?

StorySeptember 25, 2000
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As members of the National Association of Broadcasters continued their convention this weekend, hundreds of activists rallied outside to protest the trade association’s aggressive stance against Low Power FM (LPFM) or micro-radio, and to demand increased non-commercial, locally controlled, public interest media in this country. At the same time, NPR was also targeted, because to the surprise of many, they have been playing an active role in opposing low-power FM in Congress.

Earlier this year the FCC announced a new licensing plan that would effectively enable as many as 700 new low power community stations to take to the airwaves. NAB and National Public Radio have pushed the House of Representatives to pass a bill cutting that number to 70. The bill is now before the Senate.

The NAB is the trade association of the most powerful corporate media in this country, including Time Warner and Disney. It has poured millions into the campaign coffers of both Democrats and Republicans.

Where does National Public Radio fit in with this? Last week the New York Times ran a full page ad with a headline, "We want more public radio. Why doesn’t NPR?" And the ad went on to say:

“Nobody can accuse NPR of being a powerful special interest. But in its winsome way, NPR is now providing political cover for some real Beltway bruisers.

“Take NPR’s opposition to low-power FM radio. This FCC plan would license small radio stations to schools, churches, and local community groups for educational purposes. It’s "cottage radio," serving neighborhoods and community constituencies that big broadcasters don’t.

“Radio doesn’t get any more "public" than low-power FM! Yet NPR has joined the huge commercial conglomerates in the National Association of Broadcasters to try to block low-power radio in Congress. Not that lobbyists for Big Broadcasting need any help. They spend $5 million a year to influence legislation, and hand out an additional $1,000 a day to candidates for federal office. They treat the public airwaves like their private property. They don’t want spectrum reserved for low-power FM. Their purpose is profit, not diversity or community service."

This weekend in San Francisco the NPR board of directors heard testimony from low-power FM supporters who criticized NPR’s quiet lobbying campaign urging senators to pass a bill that would limit low-power FM.

Tape Testimony:

  • Mike Bradsher, General Manager, KANW, a National Public Radio station in New Mexico.
  • Matt Barker and Raoul Rangel, from Radio Watson, a former low-power FM community radio station which was closed down by the FCC in 1998. The spanish speaking station served the farm workers of Watsonville, California.

Guests:

  • Kevin Close, president of National Public Radio.
  • Pete Tridish, of Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia.
  • Peter Franck, Attorney at National Lawyers Guild, Committee on Democratic Communications.

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