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Bill would alter FM radio rules

Legislation would allow more low-power stations in large markets. Critics say move would increase crowding on airwaves.

June 09, 2004|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

The battle over the country's radio airwaves continues. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has introduced legislation that would allow the licensing and construction of thousands of new low-power FM radio stations in American cities.

Low-power FM service, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2000, has resulted in the addition of about 300 nonprofit, 100-watt and lower-power stations around the U.S. Only one of those, however, has been in a major market, KYPT in Tucson.

Fearing interference with existing stations, Congress enacted the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act in 2000, imposing spacing requirements between stations that restricted low-power FMs to smaller markets where the radio dial was less crowded. At the same time, Congress required the FCC to commission independent studies to determine whether the low-power FM spacing requirements were justified.

McCain's bill is based on the results of a three-year field test by Mitre Corp., which found low-power FMs posed no significant interference to existing stations. It would effectively reverse the broadcasting preservation act, diminishing the spacing requirements and thereby allowing more low-power FMs in markets where the dial is more crowded.

"I look forward to hearing more local artists, local news ... and community-based programming on low-power FM radio stations throughout the country," McCain said.

The measure is opposed by the National Assn. of Broadcasters, whose president, Edward O. Fritts, called the Mitre study "deeply flawed" and said "local radio listeners should not be subjected to the inevitable interference that would result from shoehorning more stations onto an already crowded radio dial."

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