Radio Act a major success for media democracy

By Autumn Labbé-Renault This column originally published Dec. 30, 2010 in The Davis Enterprise I’ve written much about how media policy trickles down from the Beltway and affects us in our communities. Davis is extraordinarily rich in local media and I know we’re effective locally, but at the national level, efforts to make media more democratic and inclusive have frequently met with discouraging ends. However, I’m choosing to cap off the year with a happy ending. This is the story of the Local Community Radio Act, “the little piece of legislation that could.” Replete with tales of hula-hooping justice seekers and strange bedfellows, it’s really a story about the power of overwhelming grassroots pressure brought to bear on the legislative process. Let me start with a quick recap. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the low-power FM (LPFM) radio service in 2000. LPFM was created to address the dearth of localism and the shrinking of diversity in radio due to rampant media consolidation. It provided an application process whereby non-profit organizations, churches, educational institutions, etc. could seek licenses to launch non-commercial radio stations of 100 watts or less. According to Prometheus Radio Project, approximately 800 such LPFM stations are in existence today. KDRT-LP, 95.7 FM in Davis, is one such station. But the LPFM Order was quickly subsumed by the by the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act of 2000. Backed by big broadcasting lobbies who cited potential interference with their stations (a claim later debunked by a Congressional study in 2003), the broadcasters succeeded in limiting to LPFM to rural areas. What was intended to serve thousands of communities was instead limited to hundreds. Flash forward to the present day. On Dec. 13, 2010, about 50 low-power FM advocates converged on the headquarters for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Using hula hoops and juggling pins, the protestors urged NAB to stop making the Radio Act jump through hoops. Citing unfounded and disproved fears of competition, NAB was one of the last holdouts on a bill that otherwise experienced unified, widespread bipartisan support. And I do mean widespread, encompassing everyone from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to the Christian Coalition. The creativity and determination brought to bear on this bill was outstanding. On Dec. 18, the Local Community Radio Act cleared its final hurdle with decisive bipartisan support in the Senate, just one day after clearing the House. In the Senate, it succeeded due to the bipartisan leadership of Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John McCain (R-AZ), and in the House, Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Lee Terry (R-NE). Locally, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, was an early and stalwart supporter. So, what does this mean? At a policy level, it means that Congress has given the FCC a mandate to license thousands of new LPFM community stations nationwide. It means that voices denied access to the airwaves will have their chance to be heard, and to help shape their communities. On a personal level, I’ve been involved with KDRT since its earliest planning stages in 2001. Thinking about how the community of Davis welcomed and embraced KDRT from the start—not to mention donated generously to keep us on the air during our encroachment battle in 2007-08—I feel jubilant that other communities will get to launch their own stations. And, having been involved with advocating for this legislation for the past several years, its passage was a heady moment—to feel so connected to so many other activists who believe that community radio improves community life. I’m involved with a number of groups who fought doggedly for this but must give a heartfelt salute to our friends at Prometheus Radio Project, who fought for more than 10 years to secure this victory for local media. Autumn Labbé-Renault is executive director for Davis Media Access, an organization providing access to, and advocacy for, local media. She writes this column monthly and hosts a radio show, “Speakeasy” alternate Wednesdays at 10 a.m. on KDRT 95.7 FM in Davis, or


Thanks for sharing your feelings of connectedness with all of us! You said it!

KDRT is nothing if not a connected, collaborative effort. Thank you kindly.

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