Later this year, the Federal Communications Commission will begin distributing licenses to registered nonprofit organizations that want to start low-power FM radio stations. The goal is to dot the country with 100-watt transmitters, primarily in urban areas, and restore some of the diversity lost to corporate consolidation of radio.
“It’s the largest expansion of community radio in this country’s history,” said Ian Smith, program director of Prometheus Radio, which has been lobbying the government for more than a decade to permit such stations. Broadcasting would, ideally, be done in addition to streaming, extending the reach – and effectiveness – of community organizations and activists, some of which also publish newspapers.
This may well be the last distribution of FM radio licenses by the FCC, so competition will be intense. If there are multiple applicants for a single license that all meet the minimal requirements, the FCC will use a points system to help choose who gets a license. Points are awarded to organizations that pledge to air at least eight hours of local programming daily, offer a publicly accessible studio that is staffed 20 hours per week or are affiliated with a Native American tribe, among other things. In the event of a tie, the FCC will ask the two organizations to work out a plan for sharing time on the dial.
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