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Legal Low Power FM
December 20, 2010 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Though it was eclipsed in press coverage by the repealing of DADT, congress congruently relaxed regulations on community based, Low Power FM radio stations.

Alternative media outlets are heralding the bill as the largest edit to the 1996 Telecom Act's radio policies. The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 just might pave the way for hundreds, or thousands of small, community oriented radio stations in lower density areas of the United States.

Low power stations might not need to broadcast from jeeps or boats for much longer.
posted by furnace.heart (46 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, sweet! We used to have a couple of these in my old neighborhood, and one at the high school that only really broadcast, like, two blocks around. Way to go, and fuck NPR for being pissflaps on this.
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 just might pave the way for hundreds, or thousands of small, fundamentalist christian community oriented radio stations.

Christian radio has a history of fighting with small and non-commercial radio for frequency space.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Prometheus says it's good, it's good.
posted by msconduct at 3:07 PM on December 20, 2010


This is probably the best thing to happen to radio in the US in a very long time. Just maybe radio ain't dead after all, yay!
posted by doctor_negative at 3:12 PM on December 20, 2010


I think you mean "simultaneously" rather than "congruently", though it would be awesome if this actually had happened in order to be congruent with DADT.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:16 PM on December 20, 2010


Just searched NPRs site for their stance. You can read a 2001 essay from their ombudsman here.

tldr; Aside from the purported bleedover of LPFM into regular FM signals, well ... apparently they're ostensibly afraid that LPFM will sully their professional image: The radio business has become increasingly professional, even in public radio. Public radio has its unique sound, and increasingly that sound has become smoother as the standards of public radio become higher.
posted by msconduct at 3:18 PM on December 20, 2010


Let's see, we're on 92 FM tonight and it feels like a nice, clean little band so far. No one else is using it and the price is right, heh-heh. And yes folks, you've guessed it, tonight I'm as horny as a 10-peckered owl, so stay tuned because this is Hard Harry reminding you to eat your cereal with a fork and do your homework in the dark...
posted by inigo2 at 3:20 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


ennui.bz, would you really oppose this because some of the people who would benefit from it are Christians?

Really?

Really?

Really?
posted by roll truck roll at 3:21 PM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


This is great, apart from the fact that it means the couple of slivers of spectrum where my Griffin FM transmitter thingy worked are almost certainly not long for this world. Small price to pay.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:26 PM on December 20, 2010


Somewhere out there Cristian Slater is smiling and preparing to Pump Up the Volume!
posted by MikeMc at 3:27 PM on December 20, 2010


Seconding roll truck roll. Increased community access to radio broadcasting is a good that outweighs petty ideological concerns.
posted by JHarris at 3:28 PM on December 20, 2010


I don't want to put word sin ennui.bz's mouth, but I am guessing the possible objection is not that some who would benefit are Christians, but that fundamentalist Christian organizations (may) have a history of swamping the other competition and dominating the airwaves at the expense of the other, non-Christian stations
posted by edgeways at 3:31 PM on December 20, 2010


The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 just might pave the way for hundreds, or thousands of small, fundamentalist christian Muslim community oriented radio stations.

Christian
Muslim radio has a history of fighting with small and non-commercial radio for frequency space.

WHOOPS!
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:31 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lame duck congress is slamming through a bunch of happy-lefty stuff - does anyone know of a complete list of these?
posted by victors at 3:32 PM on December 20, 2010


My favorite moment in Pump Up The Volume is when Harry Hardon comes back on the air after seeming like he had retired, and the town's kids spontaneous erupt into an explosive celebration. For an instant, there is shot of a group of kids carrying a giant, inflatable phallus.

What? They just had that on hand? Where are they going with it? What are their plans?

Whatever the case, those are the pirate radio fans I want to party with.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:34 PM on December 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


What? They just had that on hand? Where are they going with it? What are their plans?

It fell off one of the Rolling Stones tour semis, they were just going to return it.
posted by MikeMc at 3:36 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie: I have thought that exact same thing, every single time i watch that movie. I can't help but imagining the conversation the preceded the giant inflatable dong:

"Wait, you guys. I've got the perfect thing for this in my glovebox!"
posted by furnace.heart at 3:37 PM on December 20, 2010


My friends at CHIRP are all abuzz over this. Hope it pans out.
posted by jtron at 3:39 PM on December 20, 2010


Huh. Now that I have a grown-up job, I really ought to spend a few bucks on a nice microbroadcasting rig (yeah, I know LPFM/community radio and microbroadcasting are different--it just reminded me, that's all).
posted by box at 3:40 PM on December 20, 2010


klangklangston: "Oh, sweet! We used to have a couple of these in my old neighborhood, and one at the high school that only really broadcast, like, two blocks around. Way to go, and fuck NPR for being pissflaps on this"

Pissflaps?
posted by Splunge at 3:41 PM on December 20, 2010


Pissflaps?

It's what happens when you pee on an American eagle.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes. Pissflaps.
posted by Jimbob at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2010


Didn't one of the Petes from "Adventures of Pete and Pete" have a basement radio station? I've always wanted to do this.
posted by hellojed at 3:57 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


In regards to the Christian stations, I recall a radio engineer I was friends with some years back said that the Christian stations in this area often had poorly managed systems that would often bleed into other bands. If this was by accident or on purpose, he wouldn't guess, but left the comment at that.

And really, NPR, chatty DJs (not just college DJs) already make the field sound pretty unprofessional. I don't care about your weekend, or the supposed weekend you had to promote some local brand of something. I am not your friend, I do not want to be your friend, or ever feel like I am your friend. I am a listener, and I want to listen to music.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2010


I am a listener, and I want to listen to music.

You would have liked my friend's pirate station then.

He once played Warrant's Cherry Pie on repeat for 6 hours straight. Just because.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:10 PM on December 20, 2010


hellojed: Didn't one of the Petes from "Adventures of Pete and Pete" have a basement radio station? I've always wanted to do this.

I believe you can be a microbroadcaster and legally operate without a license. Granted, you'll have a very small reach, but it could let you see if you like it, now that a low power license is more attainable. I wonder if you could hack an iPod FM Transmitter to be powerful enough for a microbroadcaster, or now, a low power broadcaster.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:13 PM on December 20, 2010


spinifex23: He once played Warrant's Cherry Pie on repeat for 6 hours straight. Just because.

Not quite that bad, but the local college station once played a Modest Mouse album on repeat for half a day, because the usual random MP3 playing computer had crashed, and it was between quarters, so there weren't many live DJs.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:16 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I looked around? What price for how much power? Does anyone have any details on this?
posted by keratacon at 4:20 PM on December 20, 2010


You would have liked my friend's pirate station then.

He once played Warrant's Cherry Pie on repeat for 6 hours straight.


I'm having a really hard time reconciling these two sentences.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:30 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


He wanted music, and technically it's music.

Now, it's not good music, mind you...
posted by spinifex23 at 4:32 PM on December 20, 2010


Looks like it's time to finally get that PCIMAX card and range booster!
posted by squalor at 4:37 PM on December 20, 2010


The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 just might pave the way for hundreds, or thousands of small, fundamentalist christian Muslim community oriented radio stations.

Christian Muslim radio has a history of fighting with small and non-commercial radio for frequency space.

WHOOPS!


are there even any islamic radio stations in the US? there sure are a fuckload of rightwing christian fundamentalist ones. the problem when anyone trots out the word "community' is that they imagine the community of themselves and their friends... so of course community radio means some sub/counter culture extravaganza, instead of a tool for the christian right to further colonize the airwaves.

i have no idea whether this is a good law or not but you tell me who is better organized at the community level and i'll tell you who is going to get the low power licenses. why do you all have the idea that a more "libertarian" approach to the airwaves will produce a more diverse set of voices? just because the economic rewards for LPFM stations are small doesn't change the power of a free market. as much as I hate NPR, and god do I hate NPR ( i'll listen to apocalyptic christian hate speech any day over 'All Things Considered' ) I essentially agree with their position: the way to get a diversity of cultures and opinions on the radio is to fund and support public radio stations.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:39 PM on December 20, 2010


This is seriously great news.
posted by sidereal at 4:50 PM on December 20, 2010


Original opposition to these licenses make strange bedfellows. To see NPR on the same page as Clear Channel and The National Association of Broadcasters was disheartening to me. Recent NPR coverage has failed to mention their historic opposition to this.

It remains to be seen how hard the licenses will be to get.

I say if there is signal space and you have to money that radio should be open.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:52 PM on December 20, 2010


Didn't one of the Petes from "Adventures of Pete and Pete" have a basement radio station?

That would be WART, from the episode, "Hard Day's Pete." You can do the same thing, all you need is a Krebstar 2000 walkie-talkie with the transmit button taped down.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:56 PM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yay!!! KMRE had to fight off a religious broadcaster to get the frequency. So if you live in an area where there isn't enough religion on the public airwaves, you might get some. But hereabouts, there's plenty of religion leaking into the ether already.
posted by warbaby at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2010


i have no idea whether this is a good law or not but you tell me who is better organized at the community level and i'll tell you who is going to get the low power licenses. why do you all have the idea that a more "libertarian" approach to the airwaves will produce a more diverse set of voices? just because the economic rewards for LPFM stations are small doesn't change the power of a free market. as much as I hate NPR, and god do I hate NPR ( i'll listen to apocalyptic christian hate speech any day over 'All Things Considered' ) I essentially agree with their position: the way to get a diversity of cultures and opinions on the radio is to fund and support public radio stations.

As a former DJ and board member of a small FM station, I can't disagree more. The airwaves are, in theory, a public resource that is regulated by the government in "the public interest," in order to minimize interference and maximize their potential for communication. For many years, "the public interest" has meant "in the interest of the highest bidder." I don't know what's more libertarian than that approach short of dropping all regulation, and it's resulted in a handful of powerful corporations broadcasting their cookie cutter shit to every available market, and a large public network that you yourself admit to loathing. And yet, not only do you argue for the status quo because some religious groups might start radio stations, but you try to rally support for the public network that you hate at the cost of smaller groups who may be interested in starting a station.

Here's an idea: If you don't like the idea of Christian stations taking over, and you don't like the current public networks, try not listening to either and rallying a group to start your own LPFM. At least let others have the freedom to do so if you'd rather complain.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:31 PM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's a part of me that's all jittery crazy about this announcement, because I was, at one time in my life, a pirate broadcaster. I wasn't a particularly successful pirate broadcaster, because I was using a hopped-up FM transmitter I built from schematics in a book at the library and I really didn't build my transmitter to a very high standard, but I was certainly ambitious in my programming. Mostly, it was a loop of my best mixtapes, running on a neat old tape deck that had auto-reverse and a repeat function, so it would loop blocks of 90 minute music sets until I could get home from school to change the tape, but I did some original programming as well.

There are a few things in my life I regret losing on almost the same level as you'd regret losing a limb. My two letters from Cloris Leachman, written in response to the desolate fan letters of a nine year-old so impressed by Phyllis that I wrote to her asking if she would adopt me and be my real mother, for one (she wryly wrote that she'd spoken with my mother and found her to be a perfectly lovely woman, and followed up with a second letter and a signed photograph). My ten years of correspondence with Gian Carlo Menotti, who directed me as a non-singing child extra in La Boheme and who took the time out from his busy schedule to sustain a long distance mentor relationship from a little weird kid who was obsessed with inventing the non-singing electronic one-man opera—the losses just kill me, and I hold out an insane hope that one day some of these things will turn up.

One of the worst losses, though, is the set of master tapes from my first stab at original programming on the tiniest and least easily heard radio station in Scaggsville. I was fifteen, not yet definitively queer, but obsessed with radio drama, science fiction, Julia Child, women who were actually men, and the sort of sniping, lopsided Laurel & Hardy dynamic I had with my schizophrenic best friend. I came up with Cooking With Agnes & Agatha, a strange little radio show that was what I think may have been the world's first drag duo radio cooking show set in a vaguely science fictiony environment of a space station in another dimension.

It was amazingly stupid, but I was possibly the single biggest fan of Madame's Place in the entire universe, and I figured that if some gay guy's hand could be a saucy whorish old woman, I could pull of being an overstuffed Julia Child clone on radio.

"I'm Agnes," I'd say, in a puffy sing-song at the intro.

"And I'm Agatha!" my friend would add, in his own variant on a puffy sing-song.

"And today we're going to be making pancakes!" we screamed in unison.

Of course, I wasn't a very good director. The pancake episode was filled with long silences and broken character.

"Jesus, Joe, you just burned the shit out of me!"

"Agatha," I'd say, trying to corral him back into character, "That's all part of being a great chef! It builds character! Now don't make me throw you out the airlock!"

Everything had exclamation points. My influences were loud, large, powerful women.

I did some other programs, like the Slow Show, where I played Motown LPs on my old record player that not only had a 78 rpm speed, but a 16 rpm setting, too. I did some cut-up stuff, too, feeling avant garde as I recorded crappy Q107 pop bullshit on my Tandberg and cut the tape into little pieces that I taped back together with cheap Woolworth tape, but mostly it was just crap, mixtapes, and Agnes & Agatha.

I proudly previewed A&A for my favorite teacher, laughing my ass off as I made her sit through long, painful minutes of what she must have heard as two giggly teenagers rambling incoherently in Mid-Atlantic English-accented falsettos, occasionally delving into scrapple, photon ray cannons, and accidents involving cows and teleportation beams. Having at least one of these tapes to show off would definitely fit the vogue "you can't believe how embarrassing my youth was" vibe of public radio magazine shows, but I dunno. Things were just fun, then, unlimited in a way they aren't now, and won't be again.

The best part, though, was that I was eventually shut down by the actual honest-to-god feds. Turns out that the giant antennas over by Savage, the little settlement just north of Laurel, belong to a very old and established FCC monitoring station just a few miles from my house. The very stern agent who showed up to silence the radio voice of TPI (Terrific Press Intergalactic) couldn't really stem his humor for long, having actually heard Agnes & Agatha in action, and chuckled as he explained that it took 'em a while to track my little station down, since it was so insanely close to the FCC lab that it was fiendishly hard to triangulate my exact location.

He took my little transmitter, and had a conversation with my father that occasioned both of them laughing quite a bit, being long-time radio enthusiasts (my father having been a late-night DJ of longhair music in Thomson, GA, in between being a tower monkey, changing bulbs in the aircraft warning lights). The truck drove off, and I stepped back into the kitchen, where my father was making a little float with ginger ale and ice milk.

"You're a real piece of work, kid."

I still have thousands of tapes, and I keep holding out hope that, one of these days, with enough time to sit around listening to hour after hour of low-fi transcriptions of me playing with a tape recorder like a stoner, I'll dig up at least one episode of Cooking With Agnes & Agatha, just to bring it all back and reflect on exactly how it was back then, when almost anything seemed possible.

With the internet, maybe it's all immaterial.

In 1983, on the other hand, a hundred watts of electric frequency modulated science fiction fat lady dragged freak flag meant something, even though hardly anyone tuned in. You just set those waves in motion, fanning out into the atmosphere, out into space, where they might go on forever, chasing after reruns and political speeches and commercials for Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! in a whimper amongst the roar that, in some small way, tells the universe that you are out there.

"Hi there, this is Agnes, and today, we'll be cooking with gas!"

I'm here.

I exist.

Can anyone out there hear me?

posted by sonascope at 6:36 PM on December 20, 2010 [52 favorites]


Sonascope, that sounds AWESOME.
posted by honeydew at 7:13 PM on December 20, 2010


I don't see the likes of NPR and Clear Channel really being odd bedfellows. Existing stations pay good money for the privilege, and would be rightly concerned if a gaggle of low powered, possibly poorly regulated broadcast frequencies start interfering with their space. Concerns which seem to have been addressed by a $2 million government study.

That being said, meh. The new rules do allow for independent and/or community based broadcasting, which seems pretty cool. Then again, this isn't pirate broadcasting. It remains to be seen how licenses will be doled out "based on the needs of the local community."
posted by 2N2222 at 11:16 PM on December 20, 2010


He once played Warrant's Cherry Pie on repeat for 6 hours straight. Just because.

Warrant ... Warrant never changes.
posted by jpolchlopek at 5:44 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Side note: The bill that passed was actually HR 6533, the Local Community Radio Act of 2010. I was going crazy trying to figure out why everyone thought LCRA 2009 (linked above as SB 592) had passed when both the House and Senate versions of those bills had stalled. HR 6533 is worth a read, as it's slightly different than the linked Senate bill.
posted by fireoyster at 7:04 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Warrant ... Warrant never changes.

I see what you did there THERE you are!
posted by cereselle at 7:12 AM on December 21, 2010


these stations must be FCC-approved "based on the needs of the local community" ...

Plenty of elbow room for majoritarian rule in that loophole.
posted by Twang at 7:24 AM on December 21, 2010


I'm worried about this, because there's too many unfair actors in this space. There's the Translator War -- translators are basically repeaters for FM stations to boost coverage area. NPR used large translator networks to get public radio out into areas that couldn't support a full power station.

Then American Family Radio got into the act. The rule is a full power station can take frequency away from translators, because it's assumed that the full power station will generate more local content. So, they started building full power systems right on top of NPR translators, in a deliberate attack on NPR. NPR has been countering with full power stations of its own.

Translators have been abused as well. They were allowed to help extend service coverage into areas that would have no local coverage at all without them, but nowadays, they've become massive networks of religious station translators that are fed via satellite -- so, instead of feeding in local news, they've become cheap ways to build national networks.

So, I'm not sanguine about the LPFM regulations. I'm willing to bet a bunch of LPFM will go up to rebroadcast these networks and to deny the frequency to other broadcasters. This, I think, is the core of NPR's objection -- they're already being hammered by translator abuses, and they feel that LPFM will allow them to be interfered with in larger areas that have direct feeds from the full power NPR stations.
posted by eriko at 9:58 AM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie: For an instant, there is shot of a group of kids carrying a giant, inflatable phallus.

What? They just had that on hand? Where are they going with it? What are their plans?

Whatever the case, those are the pirate radio fans I want to party with.


For what it's worth, my college radio station had an inflatable sheep un-mascot for a while, but it wasn't giant. Then we got the Light-Up Joseph, who I assume belonged to a manger scene somewhere. The most recent acquisition was a potentially* life-size shark, which now hangs from the ceiling in one of the radio station rooms. I don't attend enough DJ events and parties to tell you the full stories behind those, but they're on hand, just in case.

*Potentially, because I have no idea what kind of shark it is supposed to be, but it's a good 8 feet long, from nose to tail.

posted by filthy light thief at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2011


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