Jessica Brown
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Freeing the Airwaves: Microradio Stations Fight for Their Lives Jessica Brown is director of Youth Programs, Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy .
Jessica Brown

Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which eased restrictions on airwave ownership, consolidation in the radio industry has led to both a decrease in diversified programming and a decrease in opportunities for minorities, women, and low-income voices in the radio industry. "Congress' recent decision to deregulate the radio industry has resulted in an explosive number of mergers and acquisitions that have placed the ownership of radio in fewer hands," says Kofi Ofori, author of "Black Out? Media Ownership Concentration and the Future of Black Radio." This has caused what Ofori calls a "crisis that threatens the survival of Black radio and small entrepreneurship in general."

It should not be a surprise, then, that there has been a surge in interest in independent community radio. Broadcasting and Cable (4/19/99) reports that in the past year, the FCC has received more than 13,000 inquiries from small groups wanting to start their own stations. As even FCC Chairman Bill Kennard has admitted, this is a sure sign people aren't getting what they want from existing broadcasters.

It seems, however, that the efforts of community radio activists have not gone completely unnoticed. This January, the FCC released its 1999 agenda which proposed allowing community groups or small businesses that can't afford the facilities necessary for a full power station to operate smaller, less expensive stations with broadcast radiuses of anywhere from one to forty miles. In theory these small broadcasters would be limited to parts of the dial that aren't occupied by existing full-power stations.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on March 22,1999, however, low-power radio faces a high power political challenge from broadcasters in the corporate sector who have invoked their lobbying group, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), to delay FCC action for as long as they can. The NAB claims that the new stations will interfere with the signals of existing stations, and take up space on the frequency spectrum that could be used to introduce new, digital services. Some broadcasters are also complaining that microradio stations will have an unfair competitive advantage, since they are entering the market with lower start-up costs.

More Microradio Resources

Seizing the Airways, edited by Ron Sakolsky and Stephen Dunifer. This anthology emphasizes the myriad voices of the free radio movement, from Human Rights Radio in Springfield, Illinois to Free Radio Berkeley, and internationally, from Canada, Holland, Haiti and Mexico. Order from Free Radio Berkeley, see

The Microradio Empowerment Coalition, a Sister Project of the Prometheus Radio Project. Founding Members include Project Censored; FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), CDC (National Lawyers Guild Committee on Democratic Communications); Radio4All; Robert McChesney, Honorary Chair. 2-12 Seaman Ave, 5K, NY, NY 10034, .

The New York Free Media Alliance has a web page explaining how individuals and organizations can file comments with the FCC concerning the Low Power FM Radio Proposal. For background, there are links to the draft comments prepared by the Committee on Democratic Communications (CDC), Amherst Alliance, Prometheus Radio Project and the Microradio Empowerment Coalition. The page is at:   . See the NYFMA site generally for microradio documents and other NYC events and actions: