Thursday, March 20, 2008

CRAZY EIGHTS UPDATE: Does expanding the FM radio dial fall into the category of “All the news that's fit to print“?

Watching how newspapers cover more heady technical matters involving radio continues to amuse and puzzle some of us. Weeks after the FCC posted its plan to seek public comment on expanding the FM radio band by 60 channels (see the previous column), Colorado newspapers and those around the country have yet to broach the subject. The standard bearers of journalistic integrity, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have done nothing but cloud pending FCC action that, if enacted, will be monumental.

On March 17, those prestigious newspapers from the Big Apple ran a story, poorly describing how the FCC raked in $19 Billion through a fire sale of what was deemed "radio" frequencies located in the analogue television spectrum (soon to be vacated by television stations in their conversion to digital by next February) to telecommunications companies for cell phone and related uses. The reports did not divulge the frequencies sold (in the 700 Megahertz range; most suited for cell phone operations, etc.), leaving the impression that the "radio" frequencies sold in the television spectrum could have included channels five and six, where the FCC is floating the plan to expand the FM radio dial.

The FM expansion plan is still alive and well, even if the New York Times doesn't consider this "news fit to print", thus the Times is doing big business a favor. A lot of the big players in radio love this kind of public negligence. In the FM radio expansion arena they are banking on people like you and me to sit back and passively let things unfold in the way that the Clear Channels, and state-wide public radio networks (without true, LIVE local access for their network stations) would like. Without changes in the way radio station licensees are selected, the fat cats will continue hogging new frequencies at the expense of smaller, community-based operators. If the small guy is to get a fair shake, the FCC will have to roll back the clock to a time before media consolidation and radio station empire building became commonplace in the 1990’s (following the 1994 butchering/ re-writing of the Communications Act of 1934).

We can stop the backslide of the last fourteen years and make sure new radio frequencies are distributed for people; not insensitive, bottom line-only mega corporations or public entities which act like them. It’s easy, if we all get involved. In this amazing political year, consider the following questions that you could be asking anyone running for Federal office:

1) Do you think all of the consolidation of radio stations in recent years has been a good or bad idea for serving the public interest?

2) Do you support the licensing of more locally-owned and operated radio stations?

3) In order to give more local community groups and small business owners a chance at obtaining an FCC FM radio license, would you support an expansion of the FM radio band in which the FCC reviews applicants on their community service merits, rather than placing new frequencies on the auction block for the highest bidder from anywhere?

Some have written in recent days that all of the people running for Federal office are already in the pockets of the Clear Channels of this world, so why bother? Asking the questions listed above in a public forum will help everyone see the issues much clearer than before; and will make it that much harder for anyone in Washington to carry on business as usual.

Please chime in. There are more questions to ask. Don't let other interests keep you from having your say.

WE CAN GET THIS ISSUE ON THE FRONT BURNER. We don’t have to put up with monolithic sources of news, information, and cultural programming on the radio. We can move forward, and away from the mostly stale or distorted offerings coming from too many spots on the radio dial. If you care enough about this to get involved, we can make radio relevant again. We can even make the New York Times sit up and take note of the groundswell.