cisler on Sat, 16 Jan 1999 22:21:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: Microradio

date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 08:33:30 -0500
from: Barry Forbes <>
subject: Policy Update: Microradio

Last Thursday, January 7, 1999, Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) Chairman William E. Kennard, released the
1999 FCC Agenda. One of the FCC"s priority for ensuring
broad access to communications services and technology will
be to "Open low-power radio frequencies for local use." (For
more information, see the full FCC 1999 Agenda at

Low power radio, also known as "microradio," has mostly been
used for weather and traffic advisories. However, it can be
an exciting new tool that could, among other things, open up
entrepreneurial opportunities for minorities and women,
provide a new medium that will put members of local
communities in touch with one another; and create a source
of information that would serve individuals who would like
to participate more actively in government decision-making.
Chairman Kennard stated his intentions clearly at the
October 16, 1999, meeting of the National Association of
Broadcasters (NAB) Radio Convention in Seattle:

"I also need your input on ways that we can manage the
spectrum more efficiently and create more opportunities to
use the public airwaves. I am talking about microradio. As I
have travelled around the country, I talk to many, many
people who want to use the airwaves to speak to their
communities -- churches, community groups, universities,
small businesses, minority groups. There is a tremendous
need for us to find ways use the broadcast spectrum more
efficiently so that we can bring more voices to the
airwaves. We are seriously evaluating proposals for a new
microradio service. I believe that we have an obligation to
explore ways to open the doors of opportunity to use the
airwaves, particularly as consolidation closes those doors
for new entrants." (For more information, see the full text
at .)

Clearly, Chairman Kennard is committed to this new service,
but he needs, and has asked for, our help. The Civil Rights
Forum is supporting and assisting with the work of the Media
Access Project (MAP.) We hope to launch a grassroots
campaign in support of opening microradio to a diversity of
voices. The campaign will include letters and phone calls to
members of Congress, particularly those who sit on
committees that oversee the FCC. Later in January, MAP will
be sending a letter that will call for FCC action in support
of microradio. We also hope to gain some positive press
coverage at that time.

We will keep you informed about these plans in the next few
weeks as the FCC decides how to proceed. For more
information from the Civil Rights Forum, please see .

In the meantime, please take a few moments to review MAP's
briefing paper, "Microradio Matters to All of Us" (below)
and spread the word to your constituients and communities.

If you need more information, please do not hesitate to
contact MAP's Cheryl Leanza at (202) 232-4300 or the Civil
Rights Forum's Barry Forbes at (202) 887-0301 or

Thank you!

Mark Lloyd, Executive Director
Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy


Microradio Matters to All of Us

What is Microradio?

The current Chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission, Bill Kennard, is considering creating a whole
new type of radio service. Unlike the current
centrally-programmed stations that sound the same no matter
what part of the country they are located, this service
would be intensely local. A radio license would be available
to entrepreneurs, community groups, high schools, labor
unions, and churches, and anyone who would like to reach out
to a small geographically-concentrated group of individuals.

How can we use Microradio?

Organizations and individuals could use microradio stations
in many ways. For example, a union could reach out to a
plant or a small town to provide information to its members
or potential members. Immigrant groups could broadcast in
foreign languages and provide English language instruction.
Residents of a public housing project could share
information regarding neighborhood services. Churches could
broadcast religious services to homebound individuals in the
local vicinity. Senior centers could reach their members who
cannot travel to the center. City governments could transmit
council meetings and mass transit updates. Groups that work
with young people could operate a station, allowing
teen-agers to run radio shows and simultaneously obtain
technical and artistic training that will prepare them for a
career in broadcasting. Entrepreneurs could inexpensively
start stations to deliver advertising from community-based
businesses. The possibilities are limited only by the
creativity of the individuals using and listening to

Why do we need Microradio?

We are all affected by the nation's mass media. As that
media becomes less reflective of the diverse citizens of
this nation, we all lose. As that media becomes divorced
from their local surroundings, we become more
disenfranchised from our government and from our
communities. Although there are tremendous and important
efforts by current community radio broadcasters all across
America, they cannot bring all the voices who wish to speak
on the air, and there are many communities where no such
stations have been established.

What can we do to support Microradio?

Politically, public demonstrations of support are critical
in the next month. Contact members of Congress expressing
support of microradio and ask your grass roots membership to
do the same. Media Access Project is drafting a joint letter
from citizens' groups demonstrating broad-based support for
Microradio that will be sent in early January 1999. Signing
on to this letter will be another important way to obtain
press coverage and to demonstrate grass-roots support for

What's wrong with the current system?

Over the last decade, broadcasters successfully lobbied
Congress and the FCC to end most limits on radio ownership.
During that time, a handful of large corporations, each
owning hundreds of stations, have transformed radio from our
most local medium, substituting national management for
local decision-making, eliminating newscasts, and imposing
bland cookie-cutter program formats.

The consolidation weakens our democracy. Without locally
owned and programmed outlets, citizens cannot learn about
important issues in their communities, they do not know what
questions are being discussed in their city council
meetings, or being debated by the members of their local
school boards. Without that basic information, citizens are
unable to participate in civic life, and their views go
unheeded by our elected leaders.

Concentrated ownership reinforces the economic barriers
keeping women and minorities from entering the broadcast
industry, both as professionals and as owners. Corporate
consolidation also marginalizes certain Americans in other
ways. Commercial radio is dependent on advertisers, who have
been known to assume, as the FCC has recently demonstrated,
that Hispanic and African-American viewers and listeners are
undesirable audiences. Because they cannot obtain
advertising revenue for serving certain demographic groups,
commercial stations frequently overlook these audiences.
Corporate consolidation magnifies this problem because
absentee owners are less likely to know the community they
serve and thus are less likely to see beyond simplifying
stereotypes when making programming decisions. Consequently,
a listener will be lucky to find, in an entire week in any
given city, more than a few hours of blues and jazz music,
poetry rooted in a religious tradition, or foreign-language

Who could be against Microradio?

Unfortunately, almost everyone who has an FCC radio license
now. Besides arguing that the current system does serve the
needs of the American public, opponents claim that is it not
possible to design a service that would not interfere with
current licensees and stealing their listeners.

These claims are misplaced. First, neither the FCC nor
microradio advocates favor a new service that causes
conflicts between full-power stations and microradio
stations. Advances in radio technology are making it easier
for listeners to tune into stations with more precision and
less expensive for new broadcasters to get on the air.
Second, microradio will serve the listeners the current
broadcasters have ignored. In areas where broadcasters
provide a truly local service with opportunities for
community members to obtain air time, it is likely that the
demand for microradio stations will be small. In addition,
the current coterie of community broadcasters will likely
find new sources of support and patronage if they choose to
furnish expertise and assistance to new microradio

Why should we get involved?

The opportunity to create microradio will not come again.
FCC Chairman Kennard has a strong commitment to creating
opportunities in the broadcast industry for all Americans.
Chairman Kennard recognizes the great untapped potential of
microradio. He has asked for support from the people who
will use this service to assist him in persuading others of
its merits. To do this, members of Congress and the other
FCC commissioners must hear from listeners who are not well
served by the current radio offerings, and from speakers who
cannot get on the air.

Support from outside traditional communications activists is
also important because the most vocal constituency
supporting microradio has its origin in the so-called
"pirate radio" movement. Rightfully or not, because "pirate"
broadcasters operate radio stations without a license from
the FCC, they are viewed as scofflaws by the communications
regulatory community. Support from other thoughtful,
well-respected policy advocates is critical part of
demonstrating the wide-ranging uses that will be made of
microradio licenses if the FCC takes the steps necessary to
make them available.

Contact: Cheryl A. Leanza, Staff Attorney, Media Access
Project (202) 232-4300.

Barry Forbes, Dir. of Community Programs
Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy
818 18th St, NW, #505, Washington DC 20006
Voice: 202-887-0301  Fax: 202-887-0305


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