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Local Community Radio Act
The Local Community Radio Act is the bill that opened the airwaves for hundreds of new low power radio stations across the country, bringing community radio to urban areas for the first time. Currently, there is only one Low Power FM station in the top 50 largest media markets, which reach 160 million Americans. The recent passage of the Local Community Radio Act changes all that.
The bill repeals restrictions on the Low Power FM spectrum put in place by Congress in 2000 at the behest of commercial broadcasters. The restrictions unfairly limited the frequencies available to Low Power FM stations by allowing low power stations on every fourth frequency instead of every third. This meant that if there was a full power station on 91.3, an Low Power FM station must be 4 clicks away on the dial at 92.1, instead of three clicks away, at 91.9 (you only count odd numbers on the US radio dial). These restrictions are called third adjacency restrictions, because 91.9 is the third adjacent channel, and 92.1 is the fourth. Passage of the Local Community Radio Act allows Low Power FM stations on third adjacent channels across the US.
The supposed reasoning behind the restrictions was interference. When the Low Power FM service was created in 2000, commercial broadcasters complained that Low Power FM stations would interfere with their broadcasts. Of course, this claim was ridiculous—like saying that a 100W light bulb would outshine a 10,000W lighthouse. Unfortunately, the commercial broadcasters making these claims have a lot of influence in Washington DC, so Congress commissioned a study to investigate interference, and in the meantime, they restricted Low Power FM stations from third adjacent channels.
Subsequently, the MITRE Report, a 2.2 million dollar study conducted by the MITRE Corporation, was completed in 2003. Actually, “completed” might be a bit of an overstatement. The results of the study so conclusively debunked the claims of commercial broadcasters that Congress stopped the study early to avoid unnecessarily spending more taxpayer money. In short, the study found that interference between low power stations and full power on third adjacent channels is not an issue.
You’d think that the results of the MITRE Report would have been enough to roll back the restrictions and allow Low Power FM stations on third adjacent channels. However, it takes a law to repeal another law, not just new information—however convincing it might be. Enter the Local Community Radio Act.
The 2009 Local Community Radio Act was the third incarnation of the bill, which was introduced in 2005 and again in 2007. The first two attempts to pass the bill stalled in the early stages. The bill passed in the Senate on December 20, 2010!
Here is a timeline of the bill’s recent movement through the House and the Senate:
October 8, 2009: Passage our of House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet by a 15 to 1 vote
October 15, 2009: Passage out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote
November 19, 2009: Passage out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation by voice vote
December 16, 2009: Passage out of full House of Representatives by voice vote
March 10, 2010: Local Community Radio Act reported out of Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, making the bill ready to be passed by the Senate.
December 20, 2010: Passage out of the full Senate
January 7, 2011: President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act into law!