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Microradio in Oregon: an update

National Micro Radio Advocate Celebrates Two-Year Anniversary of New Radio Service; Close to 100 applicants in Oregon, 70 in Washington, 3,000 nationwide
Portland, OR - This month marks the second anniversary of the unprecedented approval (Jan. 20, 2000) and issuance of the regulations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a new non-commercial low power FM radio service (Jan. 27, 2000).

For the Port of Portland and Paisley High School, plus 94 other organizations in Oregon and 70 in Washington, the decision sparked many innovative and creative ideas about how LPFM could serve their communities as they applied to the FCC for radio licenses. As a result, these groups joined over 3,000 LPFM applicants nationwide, and were among the many projects assisted by the Microradio Implementation Project.

For the last two years, the Microradio Implementation Project (MIP), a national project based in Portland, OR under the auspices of the United Church of Christ, funded in part by the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Institute, has been quietly networking thousands of communities, resource people from community radio stations, broadcast engineers, and media advocates throughout the nation's 50 states and territories, to help local groups establish non-commercial and community managed low power FM radio.

The project was mandated to 1) promote the new non-commercial LPFM radio service for 10 and 100 watt stations approved by the FCC, especially among historically marginalized communities, 2) equip potential LPFM applicants throughout the U.S. states and territories with legal, organizational and technical skills via educational materials, instruction, and workshops, 3) accompany projects in their application process for a license, and once the license was granted, 4) assist them in the implementation of the station within 18 months of the granting of the LPFM construction permit to start broadcasting, and 5) create strategies for widespread support for LPFM and greater understanding about the importance of this precedence-setting, community-based, non-commercial medium and implications for future federal, state, and local communications policies.

To assure that the new radio service would flourish, MIP collaborated with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, the National Grass Roots Radio Coalition, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Commission, the Media Access Project, the Alliance for Community Media, the National Lawyers Guild's Center for Democratic Communications, the U.S. Catholic Conference, the United Methodist Church, the Prometheus Radio Project, and the Low Power FM Radio Coalition, among many other regional and local LPFM advocates.

MIP also produced LPFM - The People's Voice, narrated by Emmy award winning actor Peter Coyote. The 14-minute video chronicles the LPFM movement, the groundswell of response by the communities throughout the nation, the attempts by the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio to kill LPFM, and the perseverance of public and political will to keep part of the airwaves in the hands of local communities. LPFM - the People's Voice, which was seen nationally and in the Portland metro area on cable access channels, recently won the Bronze World Medal in the New York Festival International Film and Video competition. One of the executive producers of the video, Andrea Cano, is also the director of the Microradio Implementation Project. A former Robert F. Kennedy Fellow, Cano brings more than 25 years of international and national social communications, administration and project development experience to MIP. While an RFK Fellow, Cano served as the first executive director of the California Chicano News Media Association, which later fostered the National Association for Hispanic Journalists.

Requirements for LPFM

According to Cano, the FCC decided that eligibility and community based criteria for LPFM required the applicant organization 1) be a not for profit educational institution or educational organization, or an entity that proposed a non-commercial public safety radio service to protect the safety of life, health, or property, 2) have an educational mission, 3) assure that 75% of its board members reside within a 10 miles of the proposed transmitter, 4) assure that the headquarters or campus was located within 10 miles of the proposed transmitter, 5) or assure that it proposed a public safety radio service and had jurisdiction within the service are of the proposed LPFM station.

Regarding ownership, the FCC asked that 6) neither the organization, its board members, or their family members should hold interest in any other television, radio, newspaper or cable television operation (excluding cable access), 7) the applicant demonstrate if it was a local chapter of a national organization that it had a separate and distinct incorporation and mission, and 8) promised to broadcast a minimum 36 hours per week. The FCC also posed questions about character of the people involved regarding prior convictions, unlicensed operations, and about stock interests.

In situations of competing applicants, a point system was offered whereby organizations earned a point for each of the following factors if they could 1) prove established community presence of more than two years and having been resident within 10 miles of the proposed transmitter for that time, 2) promised to broadcast 12 hours per day, and 3) offered at least 8 hours per day of locally produced programming.

Response from MIP

"We are very pleased with the number of applicants for LPFM who adhered to the FCC guidelines, the quality of their planning and intent for LPFM use in their local communities," explained Cano, adding, "but we are investigating and filing informal objections against applicants we believe are violating FCC regulations such as couching their identities as part of national radio networks, using 24-hour satellite feeds, and not producing local programs for broadcast."

"The other good news is that with LPFM, for the first time in its history as a regulatory body, the FCC has related and responded to individuals and non-profit organizations, instead of corporate broadcasters and industry lobbyists."

The wide range of applicants include cities, community colleges, churches, school districts; conservation, environmental , arts, music, multicultural, racial ethnic, and language specific groups, to name a few categories. Others are comprised of community collaborations with numerous groups working together to establish and manage one station. Their commitment to LPFM signaled to national and public broadcasters that radio consolidation that offers programming for limited demographics, and translators which are placed in urban as well as rural areas to transmit programming from distant stations, do not meet very local and specific informational needs.

"What we are witnessing is that local communities are learning about their media environment, who owns the airwaves and transmitters, where radio programming is coming from; and more importantly, that they now have the opportunity to be involved in gathering, formatting, and broadcasting information and content relevant to their lives."

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