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Feature: Calling the Bluff

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There is now compelling evidence that the National Association of Broadcasters' current lobbying effort for an outright ban on low power FM radio stations is based on corrupt and intentionally misleading scientific data. This includes information the NAB recently presented as testimony front of a Congressional subcommittee.

The NAB has fought long and hard against the FCC's new low power FM ruling, spending millions of dollars to try and prevent the FCC from legalizing the service. It lost. Now it is trying the ultimate trump card by pulling the strings of Congress.

As part of a drive to get a "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act" passed in both the House and Senate, it has been distributing a compact disc to members of Congress that claims to illustrate the interference low power FM stations would cause to full-power stations.

The compact disc contains a running narrative from Charles L. Jackson, the consultant engineer the NAB paid to act as its "technical expert" on the LPFM interference issue. It also contains various "test samples" of "interference demonstrations" to support the NAB's premise.

These demonstrations, says Jackson's commentary, illustrate "the impact of the changes in the existing interference protection standard that radio listeners currently enjoy." In other words, Jackson claims his audio samples of potential interference are certifiable, accurate simulations of what LPFM would sound like to listeners of current stations if implemented.

However, none of it is true. The type of interference the NAB demonstrates with its "scientific evidence" is not a certifiable example of how LPFM stations would interact with current signals on the FM band.

The reason? True FM radio interference sounds nothing like the audio on the NAB's CD. The NAB simply mixed audio from two radio stations into one file, recording one louder than the other. Unfortunately, the real world and real FM radio waves do not work this way. FM interference noise between two close-spaced stations sounds much, much different - more like a hissing or popping noise, not like two signals overlapping each other.

One person - Christopher Maxwell, the Secretary/Treasurer of the Virginia Center for the Public Press (and a member of the Radio Free Richmond Project) proved the NAB's sample was fraudulent. Maxwell simply got in his car, drove around, and tuned around the FM band in Washington, D.C., recording samples of interference between stations. Maxwell even posted clips of his recordings on the internet (available in RealAudio or MP3, scroll about halfway down the page) so the world could hear for itself.

FCC Debunks NAB Science

Even the FCC has gotten tired of watching the NAB twist the laws of physics to suit its goal. It has also called the bluff. It did so in a joint news release released Friday from the Chiefs of its Engineering/Technology and Mass Media Bureaus, Dale Hatfield and Roy Stewart. They wasted no time getting to the point:

"We are concerned that Members of Congress have received misleading engineering information about alleged interference from low power FM radio stations.

One particularly misleading disinformation effort involves a compact disc being distributed by NAB that purports to demonstrate the type of interference to existing radio stations that NAB claims will occur from new low power FM radio stations. This CD demonstration is misleading and is simply wrong.

The NAB 'crosstalk' demonstration simply does not represent actual FM radio performance and therefore is meaningless."

Hatfield and Stewart also debunked another interference myth being spread by National Public Radio - that LPFM would interfere any FM station also broadcasting a subcarrier signal (commonly used to provide reading services to the blind).

Whether these revelations come in time to stop Congress from passing the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act" is where the gamble comes in.  In the House of Representatives, close to three-quarters of the votes needed to pass the bill have already been committed.

Largely because of the NAB's "misleading disinformation effort," the House Telecommunications Subcommittee has unanimously voted the Act forward; it's only two steps away from full House passage now.  The chairman of the full House Commerce Committee is on record as wholeheartedly endorsing the LPFM ban, so a full vote on the House floor is quite likely.

Support among members of the the U.S. Senate is continuing to grow as well.

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