North Carolina: Broadcasters are distorting the facts about the low power FM issue


Copyright 2000 The Durham Herald Co.

Chapel Hill Herald (Durham, NC)

May 24, 2000 Wednesday

Final Edition


LENGTH: 1020 words

HEADLINE: Broadcasters are distorting the facts about the low-power FM issue



It's nice to see that corporate radio flack Wade Hargrove, counsel for the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, reads our local paper. Unfortunately, his assertions about the FCC's low-power FM radio program are just more of the same obfuscations and half-truths already perfected by the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio in their successful campaign against freedom of choice in radio. Any hope we may have for community radio will die in Congress unless we act fast.

Low-power FM radio - small, noncommercial, 100-watt stations - would give our towns, schools, churches and other community organizations the ability to broadcast truly local programming within a couple miles of town. Mr. Hargrove, the N.C. Association of Broadcasters, the National Association of Broadcasters and NPR claim that these small stations would interfere with the FM signals of current FCC license holders, despite the mountain of technical evidence against their position.

Mr. Hargove (in a May 17 letter) would like you to think that the issues at hand are "complex engineering issues," so complex that you'll throw up your hands and quit expecting anything more than the four or five corporate-sanctioned radio formats that currently dominate the FM dial. Don't let him get away with it.

Mr. Hargrove, to the contrary, it is the National Association of Broadcasters - not low-power FM advocates - who has failed to produce any meaningful technical evidence to support its position.

The United Church of Christ, along with the Media Access Project, hired Theodore Rappaport of Virginia Tech, a nationally prominent radio engineer, to study low power radio and to conduct a review of the technical documents that had been submitted to the FCC. Before a congressional panel, he presented his findings:

* More than 600 low power radio stations under 100 watts can be deployed in the top 60 markets in the United States without harming current radio broadcasts. (For comparison, G-105 broadcasts at 100,000 watts.)

* Under the worst scenario, 1.6 percent of listeners within the low-power FM listening range will experience interference, but almost all of them could fix the problem by adjusting the antenna on their radio. This "worst scenario" was rather extreme: it assumed that the listener experiencing the interference had an inexpensive radio and was only satisfied by one or two full-power radio stations.

These conclusions were supported by the FCC's own technical analysis, the analysis that led the FCC to establish its low-power FM program in the first place.

But along came the National Association of Broadcasters with a CD that purported to show what that interference would sound like, which they put in the hands of many members of Congress. This CD has been roundly declared a fraud by independent engineers on both sides of the low-power FM issue - it was a simulation produced on a computer that did not use real radio signals, and it was never submitted for independent analysis as part of the public FCC record. So much for the National Association of Broadcasters' technical credibility.

The association presented other "studies" to support their position, studies that Rappaport told a congressional committee "would not meet the objective standards necessary for peer review or publication acceptance in the engineering community":

* The National Association of Broadcasters' study tested radios that were doomed to fail - they tested radios that did not meet their own performance standards in a perfect, interference-free, laboratory test environment.

In essence, to "prove" that low-power FM would harm current broadcasts, the association needed to "prove" that most consumers are not satisfied with the radios they use today, which is absurd. We do not expect our clock radios to sound like expensive high fidelity systems, no matter what the National Association of Broadcasters says.

* The association produced maps of potential interference based on a radio that does not exist.

* The association inflated the number of listeners who would experience interference by double, triple, and quadruple counting individuals.

The experts the association hired to refute Rappaport's study could find nothing wrong with his analysis, and so the National Association of Broadcasters has resorted to insulting Rappaport personally and whining about his "bias."

Mr. Hargrove's most disingenuous assertion is that the FM dial is "congested." Current FM stations must be separated by three places on the dial (the "third adjacent rule"), an antiquated requirement that dates back decades to the beginning of FM broadcasting, and which has been made irrelevant by the latest developments in radio technology. The FCC's low-power FM proposal depends on a relaxation of the third adjacent rule in favor of a "second adjacent" rule, to free room for community groups and their little 100-watt stations.

The National Association of Broadcasters, NPR and Mr. Hargrove scream bloody murder about relaxing the third adjacent rule for small, noncommercial, community radio, but they don't tell you that the FCC already relaxes the rule in big-city markets like New York City on behalf of large, commercial radio stations, with no protest from the association. Make no mistake: Mr. Hargrove and his colleagues don't mind "congestion," they just prefer that big, corporate radio stations do the congesting.

Don't let Wade Hargrove tell you that a little 100-watt radio station broadcasting a couple miles out of Carrboro's town hall will cut into the 100,000-watt blather of G-105, thus ruining your day. Ask yourself why the corporations that pay Wade Hargrove's salary want to stifle local voices on the radio. Write Rep. David Price and tell him that his vote on low-power FM was cowardly. Boycott NPR, which has fought low-power FM tooth and nail.

And the most important thing you can do in support of low power radio is to make telephone calls to senators and urge them to oppose S. 2068 - the U.S. Senate version of the bill that kills low power FM - in any amended form.

Duncan Murrell is a Chapel Hill resident.


LOAD-DATE: August 19, 2004