Local Community Radio Act Allowed New Low-Power FM (LPFM) Radio Stations

Low-Power FM (LPFM) radio stations are noncommercial stations that offer communities the opportunity to share and enjoy music, news, and other programming created at the local level.  In many of the communities where LPFM stations have been up and running for years, they have played major roles in increasing the diversity of political dialogue, expanding cultural and educational programs, and offering public safety response during emergencies.  .  But until recently, diverse, informative, thought-provoking, locally-oriented programming provided by LPFM stations was severely restricted by a misguided and unnecessary federal law governing the separation between broadcast frequencies.  The story of LPFM is well worth a review.

In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission moved ahead with a plan to issue a great many new low power FM radio licenses.  This initiative would have provided hundreds and possibly thousands of LPFM radio licenses to schools, churches, and other community-based organizations.  However, at that time, a number of Members of Congress were concerned that LPFM signals would cause interference with existing full-power public and commercial radio stations.  So later that year, Congress passed legislation that restricted licensing to these stations by requiring that a minimum of four frequency intervals be present between radio stations on the FM dial.  This requirement significantly limited the number of low-power FM radio stations that could be licensed across the country.  In fact, it allowed for only one new LPFM broadcaster in the top 50 media markets across the country.

As part of that legislation, however, Congress also authorized the FCC to conduct a study via an independent contractor, to determine just how much of an interference problem more LPFM stations would cause.  That study was completed several years ago, and it concluded that there would be no harmful interference caused by reducing the required separation between broadcasters to three intervals.

That’s why I introduced legislation, entitled the Local Community Radio Act, to repeal the unnecessary minimum separation requirement and allow the FCC to proceed with its original plan to issue new LPFM licenses for frequencies on the radio dial that are only three intervals away from existing full-power radio stations.  Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced identical legislation in the Senate.  I’m pleased to say that Congress approved the Local Community Radio Act in 2010, and President Obama signed it into law (Public Law No: 111-371) on January 4, 2011.

I believe this new law will improve quality of life in communities across the country by providing new and unique radio programming –especially content addressing local interests and events.  The establishment of hundreds of low-power radio stations nationwide will also help keep residents better informed during natural disasters and other local emergencies.