June 06, 2020

Some get low-power radio licenses, despite limits

WASHINGTON – A science museum in Maine, transportation agencies in Georgia, and an array of churches are among the 255 voices that will be allowed on the radio airwaves, despite congressional restrictions on a new low-power broadcast service.

The Federal Communications Commission selected its first round of candidates for the new radio service Thursday, even as the president signed a measure that substantially scaled back the agency’s original plan.

Commercial broadcasters had warned that the initiative, as envisioned initially by the FCC, would cause harmful interference to their existing full-power FM stations. Lawmakers inserted language during budget negotiations that barred the agency from encroaching on the buffer zones that currently surround commercial stations.

But the FCC may still authorize a smaller number of stations in places where there is no such conflict – primarily in areas of the country that don’t have much congestion on the airwaves.

In the 20 states covered by Thursday’s action, the commission selected applications – within the parameters set by the law – for 255 stations from a pool 1,200 candidates. They will receive their construction permits for the stations after a 30-day comment period.

The FCC accepted applications from the Maine Science & Technology Museum Inc. in Yarmouth, as well as the Penobscot School in Rockland.

FCC Chairman William Kennard, said such licensing “will benefit our communities and enhance the diversity of our society.” The stations will operate at power levels of 50 to 100 watts, covering a radius of about 3 miles.

School districts, musical arts associations, and ethnic organizations are among the chosen applicants. Community groups, churches and schools had vied with government agencies for the low-power stations, seeking to fill gaps in their local news and programming.

“We’re in a part of the country where there is very little access to the media,” said Don Thomas, pastor at the Trinity Bible Church in Powell, Wyo., one of the recipients.

Thomas said the church hopes to meet the needs of the religious community in the town of about 5,000 residents with 24 hours of broadcasting, including live worship services and tapes of books for blind listeners.

Now, Thomas says, the church will have to find a way to get at least $10,000 to build a new station.

The original proposal adopted by the FCC in January was expected to allow for more than 1,000 stations nationwide. But it met with fierce congressional and legal challenges from commercial broadcasters. Public radio also complained it could interfere with the reading services for the blind delivered on subcarrier channels.

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