It’s a day that thousands of low-power FM and community radio activists have been awaiting for just about nine years. This evening, at 7:06 pm the House of Representatives, with a minimum of drama, passed H.R. 1147, the Local Community Radio Act of 2009 by voice vote. Little drama for the House nevertheless meant nearly two days of sitting on the edge of the seat for LPFM advocates as they waited for the House to move through its usual machinations and other business. Regardless of how much we might wish LPFM was at the top of the legislative agenda, instead it seemed more like an afterthought. At least it was enough of a no-brainer for the House that they didn’t even need a roll call vote. I’ll take it.
The bill restores the original technical specifications for LPFM which the FCC instituted in 2000. These specs allow a low-power station to be placed as close as the third adjacent channel on the dial. In practice that means if a full-power station broadcasts on 100.1 FM then a LPFM may be placed at 100.7 FM, provided that the frequency is otherwise available.
On Dec. 18, 2000 a provision limiting LPFM stations to obeying the spacing requirements of full-power stations was slipped into an omnibus budget bill and signed into law by President Clinton after a long series of back-room horsetrading. Under these still-current rules, a LPFM station may only be spaced as close as 100.9 FM next to that hypothetical full power station at 100.1 FM.
.2 MHz may not seem like a big difference, but when it comes to spacing stations on the FM dial, it is a game fought and won by tenths of a megahertz. This difference is of particular importance in the nation’s largest radio markets which already have very full dials that will not permit the addition of another full-power station or LPFM that has to obey full-power spacing rules. LPFM proponents estimate that passage of the Local Community Radio Act will create the potential for at least a hundred new stations nationwide.
Now the focus moves to the Senate, where the Commerce Committee has already approved the Senate version of the bill. If it goes to a floor vote and is passed then it is likely to be signed by President Obama.