Arkansas: Low power FM stations: Arkansas Principal Helped Break New Ground


Copyright 2000 Little Rock Newspapers, Inc.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)

January 21, 2000 Friday


LENGTH: 630 words

HEADLINE: New radio rules favor low-power FM stations Arkansas principal helped break new ground



The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules Thursday that could result in hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations springing up across America and one of the first could be in Arkansas.

Kevin McGaughey, principal of Brookland High School near Jonesboro, said he is prepared to submit the paperwork for a license to operate a station from the school. McGaughey has been working for the past year with the Low-Power Radio Coalition, an advocacy group in Washington D.C., to get the new rules approved.

"We want to develop a new learning opportunity and pull together the community," McGaughey said. "The possibilities are unlimited."

The FCC voted 4-1 to approve the new rules despite organized opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group representing major radio and television station owners, who argued that the low-power stations would create interference with existing stations.

"It's a sad day for radio listeners," said Edward Fritts, president of the association. He said his association "will review every option to undo the damage caused by low-power radio."

Proponents of the new rules and independent consultants disputed that argument. Dr. Ted Rappaport of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, who conducted a study of the issue, called the association's claims "blatant exaggerations."

The low-power stations can range between 10 watts and 100 watts, strong enough to cover up to about 7 square miles. Most commercial radio stations broadcast at up to 100,000 watts. The low-power stations also must be nonprofit organizations, which won't compete with existing stations.

The cost of starting a low-power station is less than $3,000, which will allow community groups, churches and schools to operate one.

"It's harder for smaller groups and individuals to get access to the airwaves," said FCC Chairman William Kennard, the agency's director. "What low-power FM radio will do is create an important new outlet."

McGaughey said he wants to start a station at his high school to use as a teaching tool. The students would operate the station with the supervision of a teacher, he said. The high school has about 280 students in Brookland, a town of about 1,100 people.

The School Board supports the proposal, McGaughey said, and has offered to help pay to start the station. He also is looking for state and federal grants that could help finance the station.

Michael Bracy, executive director of the Low-Power Radio Coalition, called McGaughey a pioneer in the effort to get FCC approval for the stations.

"The FCC acted because people like Kevin put a human face on the issue," Bracy said. "Kevin is one of the pioneers in this whole thing."

McGaughey has written letters to congressmen and the FCC supporting the new rules. Thursday, he was one of four participants nationwide who argued for the new rules in a conference call with about 40 congressional staff members.

"Brookland is becoming well-known in Washington," he said.

The FCC rules place several requirements on applicants. To hold a license during the first two years, groups must show that they are headquartered in or have three-quarters of their members residing within 10 miles of the proposed station.

No group can own more than one low-power station during the first two years. The licenses will be valid for eight years. Stations must broadcast at least 36 hours each week.

No existing broadcaster can have ownership or programming arrangements with any low-power station.

The FCC will decide cases where there are multiple applicants for one license by using a point system that favors those who have established community presence and pledge to air at least eight hours of local programming daily.

The FCC could begin issuing the licenses as early as May.

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