Washington, DC-- In a victory for communities nationwide, today the Federal Communications Commission announced that the agency will open the airwaves for community radio. To make room for a new wave of local stations, the FCC will clear a backlog of over six thousand pending applications for FM translators, which are repeater stations that rebroadcast distant radio stations. The decision will allow for the first new urban community radio stations in decades.
"Today the FCC has opened the door for communities to use their own local airwaves, and that will be transformative," said Brandy Doyle, Policy Director for the Prometheus Radio Project. "We commend the Commission staff for the care and diligence they have shown. We also wish to thank Chairman Genachowski, Commissioner McDowell, and particularly Commissioner Clyburn and her hardworking staff for their efforts on behalf of communities."
The announcement concludes the first hurdle in implementing the Local Community Radio Act, passed by Congress in 2010 after a decade-long grassroots campaign. The FCC is on track to accept applications for new Low Power FM (LPFM) stations nationwide as early as Fall 2012. Community groups are gearing up to apply for the licenses, which will be available only to locally-based non-profit organizations.
“For our migrant communities here in Arizona, community radio would give a voice to people who rarely get to speak for ourselves in the media,” said Carlos Garcia, Lead Organizer with Puente Arizona. "Anti-immigrant voices dominate the airwaves. Community radio can help us tell our own stories, share news and information, and get organized."
Broadcast radio remains one of the most accessible means of communication in the US, with 90% of Americans listening at least once a week.
"Radio is a great tool for reaching working people - it's free to listen, easy to produce, and people can often tune in on the job or while doing housework," said Milena Velis, Media Organizer and Educator with Philadelphia-basedMedia Mobilizing Project. “In Pennsylvania, we're facing big challenges, from education cuts to rural poverty to environmentally destructive shale drilling. We see community radio as a way to bring people together and create solutions from the ground up."
Low power community stations are non-commercial and cost as little as $10,000 to launch, putting these stations within reach of many communities who have limited access to other media outlets.
Hundreds of pending translator applications will be dismissed in Philadelphia, Phoenix, and dozens of other cities, in compliance with the rules released today. The FCC plan will preserve channels by dismissing translator applications that would preclude future community radio stations in certain markets where the FCC has determined that space for community radio will be scarce.
“We are pleased that the FCC has taken such a careful approach to preserving channels for community radio,” said Doyle. “And we’re particularly glad that the FCC has taken our recommendation to ensure that the frequencies set aside are in populated areas, where they are needed. This will make a big difference in San Antonio, Sacramento, and 12 other mid-sized markets, where stations too far from the city would have reached only tumbleweeds or farmland."
The FCC had stopped processing the pending applications in response to a 2005 petition filed by Prometheus and Media Access Project. The new processing plan includes several changes proposed by Prometheus to improve the outlook for community radio.
Also today, the FCC released a set of proposed rules for new community radio stations, asking for public comment on the proposals. That release begins the final rulemaking procedure which must be completed before the agency can accept applications for new stations.
The Prometheus Radio Project has been the leading advocate for low power community radio since 1998. Prometheus led a decade-long grassroots campaign to pass the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act, succeeding in 2010. Over its history, Prometheus has supported hundreds of communities in licensing, building, and operating their own radio stations.