By Aaron Pressman
Thursday February 18 1999
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Reuters) - University of Maryland junior Adam Longo,
news director of the school's student-run
radio station, scored a big interview Thursday: Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard.
Longo got Kennard for a show on the FCC's proposal to allow thousands
of new low power FM radio stations, a topic near
and dear to the chairman that Longo saw as ``self-reflective'' for one of the country's few legal low power outlets.
Maryland's station, WMUC, is one of only 133 in the country allowed
to broadcast at low power -- just 10 watts -- since a
1978 decision by the FCC that substantially raised the bar for licensing small operations.
Low power stations cost far less to equip and can be squeezed into markets
where the radio dial is already crowded with
Kennard, a 42-year-old lawyer who ran his own public affairs radio show
as an undergraduate at Stanford University in the
1970's, came to tout the low power proposal as a way to reverse the loss of local voices that has followed two years of
massive consolidation in the radio industry.
Longo and other students impressed the chairman with their professionalism and for other reasons.
``Walking in here today brought back memories of my days in college
radio,'' Kennard said, recalling that he spent more time in
the radio station than in classes.
``You all dress a lot better than I did when I was in college radio
and you certainly are more professional,'' Kennard quipped.
``But it did remind me of how important college radio is to a campus community.''
``We need more outlets for local expression...not just for schools and
universities but for community groups, state and local
governments, independent music producers, and civil rights groups,'' Kennard said.
Also on the program were students from the Baltimore County branch of
University of Maryland who have no over-the-air
``We can't afford $100,000 to the radio station -- the university can't
afford it,'' said Rob Carlson, chief engineer at the school's
existing station that runs over electrical wires only into campus dorms.
A low power alternative would allow the school to deal with more regional
events and better serve the surrounding towns
whose residents are all but ignored by larger Baltimore-based stations that dominate the local airwaves, Carlson said.
The school tried Internet broadcasting, but found the format too limited.
``You can't walk around campus with a computer on
your side,'' Carlson said.
The FCC's low power proposal is far from a sure thing, however. Kennard's
visit was intended in part to stir up potential
support at the grass roots level for the plan which has run into opposition from the broadcast industry and some of its allies in
Broadcasters argue new stations would cause interference with existing stations.
And Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican who oversees communications
policy in the House of Representatives, has
voiced skepticism about the plan for possibly allowing hate groups to get on the air.
Kennard tried to rebut the criticisms Thursday's broadcast, saying interference issues would be addressed by FCC engineers.
And he rejected the fear that hate groups would use low power radio as a reason for abandoning the plan.
``Should we for example regulate content on the Internet or ban the
Internet because there are web sites that are promoted by
hate groups? Of course not,'' Kennard said. ``We have a longstanding tradition in this country that cherishes more speech and
Low power radio proponents praised Kennard for raising awareness.
``The grass roots angle is the key angle,'' said Cheryl Leanza, an attorney
at the Media Access Project, a nonprofit Washington
law firm backing the low power plan. ``It's hard to be against small churches and schools around your corner getting an
opportunity like this.''
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