plan to let everyday people own a station ripples airwaves
by Dean Johnson
Have you ever wanted your own radio station?
If the Federal Communications Commission
makes good on new rules it
proposed last week, you can have your own little operation up and
running for maybe as little as $1,000.
Pick your format: JPJ (Just Pearl Jam),
Armenian folk dancing, AMP (All
Monty Python), Korean call-in, OOR (Only Otis Redding). You'd be limited
only by the boundaries of your interests and imagination.
Of course, there's a catch.
Your signal would only reach a radius of
1 to 18 miles, tops - which is
even less than many college radio stations.
The FCC has just recommended opening up
as many as 4,000 low-power
frequencies across the country, joining the already existing 10,000,
mostly high-powered stations. The new signals would range from 1 to
1,000 watts, compared to the 50,000- and 100,000-watt stations that now
dominate the airwaves.
The FCC's plan follows the radio industry's
efforts during the '90s. Companies such as Chancellor and CBS, for
example, now operate hundreds of stations each. That's resulted in,
among other things, a massive drop in minority-owned FM signals, a
reduction in programming diversity, and little opportunity for the
little guy who wants to own and operate his own station.
"This is a grassroots response to a lot
of people who feel shut out of
broadcasting," said Tom Taylor, editor of the radio trade journal M Street
Daily. "In the Boston market, for example, you have no hope right now of
getting into the broadcast radio business.
"This stems from the same impulses that
gave us pirate radio," he said.
"People want to be on radio so badly they were willing to break the law to
do it. I think these new proposals are very dynamic issues that will be
around for a long, long time."
Steven Provizer was one of those "pirates"
just a few months ago. He
headed the Citizens' Media Corp. that operated Radio Free Allston - a
low-power station that broadcast everything from town debates, rallies,
and parades to original drama, ethnic music and pop. Its broadcast booth
was in an Allston ice cream shop.
The station was forced off the air last
year, in part because its
illegal signal was interfering with some of the major Boston stations.
But Radio Free Allston is an almost perfect
example of what the FCC is now
proposing and Provizer said if the new rules become law, "We would go back
into business as soon as possible.
"We would not only get Radio Free Allston
up again," he said, "but also
help other communties to do the same thing. That's why we incorporated. We
had programs in a number of different languages. We covered events that no
one else did. We always used the analogy that we were, in a sense, a
public access station."
There are many details the FCC hasn't begun
to even broach yet. First, the
National Association of Broadcasters, which represents the country's
commercial radio community, opposes the idea.
"I don't really understand why the FCC
is doing that," said Peter Smyth,
an NAB member who also operates Greater Media's five Boston signals
(WMJX-FM, WBOS-FM, WSJZ-FM, WROR-FM and WKLB-FM). "The last thing we want
is any distortion of signals here. The dial is very cluttered as it is
Provizer has concerns, too: Who gets the
stations? How many can a single
company own and-or operate? He favors just one. He also wonders what the
FCC could do to make sure they all aren't snapped up by religious
broadcasters, a group he labeled as an "avaricious" breed.
Would the new stations be commercial ventures
and allowed to take in
"That's one of the many unanswered questions,"
said Taylor. "If they
are, they won't be taking ads out with Ford dealers but the local car wash
or the flower shop on the corner. It would be advertising at a very local
neighborhood level, not the KISS-108 level."
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