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Future of Community Radio in CT On the Line in DC

December 16, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Small community radio stations run by schools, churches and other groups could fade to static if Congress fails to act this session. That's according to groups that say they've faced an uphill battle to keep lower-power FM radio stations in the hands of the people in Connecticut and elsewhere.

It boils down to licenses, says Cheryl Leanza, a policy advisor with the United Church of Christ. She says ten years ago, after a measure allowing such stations was approved by Congress, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doled out 800 licenses for them, but since then, she claims, media lobbyists have done their best to stop the practice of licensing such outlets.

"And unfortunately, Congress responded to the pressure of large incumbent broadcasters and drastically cut back the program. Now we're working to expand the program back to its original size."

Critics of the low-power FM community radio stations have cited purported technical interference to other FM stations as a reason to halt the licenses. The FCC was ordered to study the issue, and the results showed no risk of such interference.

Leanza says the bottom line is that the airwaves should belong to the public, and not only go to the highest bidders.

"It puts radio right in the hands of ordinary people. So if you're a church organization, you could put your youth group on the air, you could put your perspective, your sermons."

Legislation has been introduced, the Local Community Radio Act, with bipartisan support from Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), that would clear the way for more licensing. There is concern that if it doesn't come up for a vote before Congress leaves for Christmas break, the measure will be shelved.

The Community Radio Act is S. 592 and H.R. 1147. Other groups asking for a vote on it include: Prometheus Radio Project, United Workers, and Media Action Grassroots Network, along with dozens of local churches.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT