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An Urban Radio Renaissance?

July 12, 2011

NEW YORK - Urban radio markets are about to play catch-up with rural areas. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to issue new rules today for Low-Power FM (LPFM) stations to operate in big cities like New York, the nation's number-one media market.

Cheryl Leanza, an attorney and consultant for the Media Access Project, says such low-power stations have broadcast in rural areas for almost a decade. Now that LPFMs are headed to bigger cities, she says they'll give grassroots community groups a whole new way to ensure that their voices are heard on the FM airwaves.

"Most of the time, small community organizations need to wait for big media to come cover their stories. Instead of waiting, or trying to convince somebody else to cover their stories, they are going to be able to decide what stories are important."

John Nichols, who covers media and politics for The Nation, says the new rules are being issued less than a week after an important federal court ruling, which sent a strong signal to the FCC about the importance of local programming.

"I think the court was really saying to them that they must take a more aggressive stance urging those who take radio licenses, be it for a traditional station or LPFM, to do more public service, to be more engaged with the community."

Nichols believes Low-Power FM has the potential to produce a renaissance for local radio across the nation.

"This is not an issue of left or right, but rather that the content be local and also, hopefully, that it have a quality that people will come back to on a regular basis and become loyal to."

Right now, the FCC gives preference to applicants that pledge to offer local programming, although there is no requirement that an LPFM station carry any local programs. Groups like the Prometheus Radio Project are pushing to change that. Low-Power FM stations typically have a range of about seven miles.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY