FCC Opens Up More Spots on Radio Dial for Low-Power Community Stations

National advocates of low-power, community-oriented radio stations are celebrating a recent Federal Communications Commission ruling that will give these types of little stations a lot more space on the radio dial.

The reaction of “Little Radio” types here in Connecticut to that Nov. 30 decision has been more muted because the FCC’s action isn’t exactly clear about how many new frequency spots on the radio dial would be opened up for low-power stations.

While thousands of new channel frequencies will be made available nationally, one radio activist group estimates that only about 46 spots on the radio dial might become open to low-power stations here in Connecticut. Part of the reason for that is there are so many commercial and public radio stations already on the air here in densely populated Connecticut.

According to the Prometheus Radio Project, which has pushed hard to provide more opportunities for low-power FM stations, the new frequency locations for Connecticut would break down this way:

-  Hartford-New Britain-Middletown market: 18 new frequency spots.

-  New Haven: 18 new channels.

-  Bridgeport: 7 new spots.

-  Stamford-Norwalk: one new channel.

-  Danbury market: 2 channels.

 “It’s a good thing,” says Tom Vesci, operations manager at the low-power WACC-FM station at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield. He says the new federal ruling will open up more opportunities for lots more small community radio operations in major urban areas around the U.S. “We’re partially pleased… We do have some open channels in Connecticut.”

As the Advocate reported last month, major commercial radio operations and National Public Radio officials opposed opening up more frequency spots to low-power folks. They claimed doing so would clutter up the airwaves and interfere with their radio signals – claims the FCC rejected.

What the FCC actually did was to allow (in those major radio markets) small community stations to operate at frequencies close to those of big commercial stations and major National Public Radio stations.

In the past, local radio operators had to be at least four frequency locations (often called “clicks”) away from a major-power station’s spot on the radio frequency spectrum. Then that was reduced to three “clicks” away. The new FCC ruling will allow smaller stations to operate right next door, in the “second adjacent” spot down the dial from a big station.

“Finally, communities without a voice on the airwaves will have a chance to control their own local media,” was the comment from Brandy Doyle, policy director for the Prometheus Radio Project. That group has been pushing the FCC to open up the airwaves to smaller local stations.

According to small radio activists, the FCC’s decision will give groups like Native American tribes, schools and churches more opportunities beginning in October 2013 to operate their own small radio stations.

Vesci says the feds rejected another proposal that would have allowed low-power stations, which now operate at 100-watts or less, a chance to boost their signal output to 250 watts. That would have let them expand their listener areas, now limited to not much more than 10 miles from their station’s location.

According to Vesci, lobbyists for NPR and commercial radio groups “fought tooth and nail” to prevent low-power stations from being able to upgrade to that slightly more powerful 250-watt level. They argued that giving the little guys more broadcasting power would make it more likely they would interfere with the signals of the bigger stations, and the FCC agreed.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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