The FCC Approves the Setting-up of
Low-Power FM Station in the US

Read the FCC's Report

From San Diego, Howie Castle comments on the FCC's decision, and presents his views on the state of US radio


Firstly - it was passed by a 3-2 vote by the 5 FCC commissioners. It will surely be challenged through the legal system by the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) who strongly oppose the idea.

Secondly - no matter what the FCC's good intentions, it could result in eventual chaos. As opponents point out, if you think the AM band is polluted, you haven't seen anything yet. The main reason the FCC gives for this action is so that an area will have more than one "voice". Of course, they should have thought of this before allowing the huge corporations like Clear Channel, AMFM, Infinity, and Cumulus (along with a handful of others) to own most of the stations in the large, and even medium-sized, population areas. Prior to the passage of the 1996 Telecom Act, which lifted the national ownership limits, the top 10 radio companies owned 194 stations. As of November, 1999, they owned 1,647 and were still buying. They were also buying TV stations, outdoor advertising companies, broadcast syndication companies, and most were plunging into the various Internet opportunities.

Thirdly - the proliferation of low-powered FM's may result not in "broad"casters, but rather "narrow"casters. Religious programming (allegedly non-profit) which could proliferate, does not offer a mainstream message, but rather tries to convert others. This is not a service, it is a mission. This has all the earmarkings of becoming a big mess. We'll see.

At least there won't be any LP-100's added in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Diego due to lack of spectrum space, but there can be four each in Miami and Dallas, three in Washington DC, two in San Francisco, and one in Philadelphia. 10-watters (LP-10's) will be awarded later.

The radio business in the US has radically changed, and not for the better. But time will tell.

A real issue is the concentration of ownership into the hands of the few large companies. It has forever changed US radio. "Cookie cutter" formats are being used in most cities and voice tracking using automation through computer technology and ISDN lines is coming into play. This, naturally, eliminates jobs and stifles creativity. Often the first to go in the "downsizing" are the veteran broadcasters - those that have worked hard, honed their skills, and are the quality talent. In many cases they're being replaced by "younger & cheaper". It's become a wage and age issue – a way to cut costs.

After the Clear Channel and AMFM merger that'll create an 830 radio station group, imagine losing your job on not-too-nice terms (in a business full of giant egos). You can scratch off 829 other stations as potential employers. It also eliminates competition for your services. What used to be "across the street" is now "down the hall"! You can see the implications. The US used to set the standard worldwide for commercial radio. After all, we've been at it since the 1920's. But now real "local" radio with its distinctive sound, its creativity, and service to the community could be on the way to extinction.

I hope the UK doesn't follow us down this path.

April 15, 2000

Howie has updated us with the following:

"Talk about putting it all in perspective... Check out this link that shows (by chart) how, in 4 years, 75 radio companies became 2!"

Howie's also sent us this report that appeared on the internet concerning the LPFM proposals:

Despite open opposition from President BILL CLINTON and FCC Chairman BILL KENNDARD, "The Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act," H.R. 3439, authored by Rep MIKE OXLEY, R-OHIO passed the full HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES by a landslide vote of 274-110.

The bill, which also had the support of the NAB and NPR, will keep current FM interference standards in place while allowing demonstration programs in nine markets to see what happens when those standards are relaxed to levels sought by the FCC to initiate the sign-on of hundreds of Low Power FM (LPFM) outlets. Similar legislation hasn't reach the SENATE floor. KENNARD predicted that if the vote passed it would eliminate more than 80% of the potential LPFM outlets he'd envisioned.

Meanwhile, HOUSE COMMERCE TELECOMMUNICATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE Chairman Rep. BILLY TAUZIN, R-LA said he was asking the Justice Department to look into whether the FCC, in lobbying against the bill, had violated the law prohibiting agencies from engaging in politics.

Back to 'On Other Wavelengths'