The Road Ahead

Monday, August 2 was the deadline for getting comments in on the FCC’s low power radio proposal. Considering the apathy rampant in the American public, getting more than 1,200 comments on an FCC rulemaking is a tremendous accomplishment.
Many thanks and extreme kudos go to everyone who submitted comments in favor of the proposal – see how numbers can impress?
Two weeks have passed, and late-filed comments continue to pour in (1,600+ total, at latest count). But what’s everybody saying?
First of all, not everybody that wanted to speak, could. The FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) was not designed for or prepared to handle the incredible demand placed on it by proponents of low power radio. They overwhelmed and crashed the system July 29-30. Even when it was back up and running, it was traffic was extremely heavy (I had to try five times to get my comments in).
Also, many who filed paper comments got confirmation that they had arrived, but haven’t appeared in the database as filed yet. Some may be waiting in the big pile yet to be scanned in; others have apparently disappeared. The FCC will have to take this into consideration when it continues considering this matter – and it, itself, has a lot of work to do before it can adequately handle true public participation.
But from those who did make it in, here’s a sampling of what the debate’s been like:
Harold Hallikainen, who’s waged many behind-the scenes battles to establish low power radio stations in Hawaii and along the West Coast, turned the tables on those who claim LPFM signal range won’t adequately serve the community by pointing out how today’s full-power stations, by their very technical nature, won’t program in the public interest: “A station that covers an entire county is unlikely to carry the city council meetings of cities within that county. A station whose coverage more closely matches the political boundaries is more likely to serve the distinct needs of that community.”
Software/electronics engineer Blair Alper properly allays the fears of what LPFM might allegedly do to broadcast interference when digital radio goes online by pointing back to the most important point of the discussion – the interests of the public: “Tell me, how many tens of thousands of comments has the commission received demanding digital radio? How many people have put digital stations on the air and claimed ‘This is important. You cannot stop me. I demand my right to go digital!'”
Anne Slinn, a 15-year college radio broadcaster with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s WMBR, explains how consolidation and the dumbing down of radio have skewed the minds of those who program the pablum: “Popularity is not only a relative term, it is meaningless without the context of comparison to a variety.”
Arguing against allowing potential LPFM stations to be “bumped” off the air by today’s bland blowtorches, Broadcast Services of Monroe, Louisiana wins the Analogy of the Year Award with: “It’s as if the traffic rules always gave the right-of-way to large tractor trailers carrying Velveeta over small compact cars carrying people.”
Mark Blake, a broadcast professional who tried back in December 1998 to set up a study to check out the potential interference claims the NAB’s harping about, was stymied because he needed an experimental license from the FCC – which it never got around to issuing: “Eight months have passed…The lack of this crucial quantitative data places the supporters of MM 99-25 at a distinct disadvantage to counter claims which may be made by those who do not embrace it.”
There’s quite a bit of bizarre reasons, too, for supporting LPFM; the bizzarest of them all had to be the New York State Thruway Authority, who thinks migrating all those automated Travelers’ Information Stations from AM to FM will improve their listenability. Doing so, according to the NYSTA, will improve the “safety of the traveling public.” Low power radio saving lives, I guess – who would have thunk it?
And, bringing a bit of spice to the supporters’ side came Joe Ptak, Zeal Stefanoff and David Lede. As the co-founders of Micro Kind Radio in San Marcos, Texas, the three say ‘pirates’ deserve an opportunity in the low power broadcast forum, and this entire discussion should include hearings to let these them explain why they’re breaking the ‘law’: “If our government can have constructive dialogue with foreign nations we bomb, we feel that same government can have dialogues with citizens practicing freedom of speech even though you have labeled them ‘pirates.’ Ya’ know there are others that view it more as Robin Hood radio, only criminal because of a bad King.”
In opposition, as expected, was the National Association of Broadcasters, who filed hundreds of pages of political spewage and pseudo-science – sounding like the fat kid in class who’s getting picked on by the rest after he eats all their milk and cookies.
Cockiness runs rampant through the NAB document – continually quoting its own studies and replicating its message through various divisions and special projects, the net effect would be laughable if it wasn’t so deadly serious.
And, like that same kid who waits until the bell rings to turn in his assignment due that day so nobody else can read it and the teacher’s got no extra time to grade it, the NAB waited until high noon on August 2, Deadline Day, to turn in this waste of trees.
Then, there’s the bully aspect of it all – having dozens of member stations file their comments simultaneously at the wire as well – as if, suddenly, there was this outpouring of concern from station managers nationwide. The intent, apparently, was to impress the FCC with a huge surge of anti-LPFM documents into believing that more people don’t want the service than do.
Too bad. It still looks like the good guys outnumber the bad nearly 5 to 1, according to the FCC’s own count. Not to mention the telltale slip in legitimacy when the same dozen or so Washington, D.C. law firms filed these last-minute appeals from commercial full-power broadcasters for self-preservation.
So-called “public radio” executives aren’t happy with LPFM, either. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which doles out the federal funds to what currently passes as public radio, long-windedly downplayed the need for low power radio stations, even going so far as to list what public radio stations in every state have done to serve the needs of those usually unheard from on the airwaves. Funny though – the CPB could come up only with one example for most of the stations they cited.
Even more appalling were the comments filed in opposition to LPFM by the “State of Oregon” – who actually turned out to be two enterprising lawyers (Ernest T. Sanchez and Susan M. Jenkins) filing on behalf of Southern Oregon University. Not quite speaking for the state, yet masquerading as if they were.
No matter, though – the NAB might be fighting hard on the surface, but it’s already begun preparing for defeat in front of the FCC. Its lobbyist horde is already “briefing key members of Congress” on the low power radio issue.
On top of that, the NAB’s also begun pelting the FCC with numerous legal pricks in preparation for filing a lawsuit against the government if a low power radio rule is established. This will result in the delay of the implementation of any rule passage – which frees up more time to pump dollars into those ‘key members of Congress”‘ campaign funds.
Truth be told, it looks like the battle may be going uphill if it goes anywhere – you can file Reply Comments rebutting claims made during this first round. They are due by Wednesday, September 1.