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Minneapolis leaders smart to support key federal legislation boosting community radio stations

Earlier this month, the Minneapolis City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee added support of H.R. 1147, the “Local Community Radio Act,” to the city’s legislative agenda.

Minneapolis has a national reputation as a strong supporter of community media, owing to such organizations as KFAI, KMOJ, MTN, the Twin Cities Media Alliance and a strong neighborhood press.  The Minneapolis City Council, by supporting the congressional measure, continued this heritage, and showed that council members support the idea of a more engaged and informed citizenry. They recognized, as many others are now starting to, that now is the time to pass the Local Community Radio Act.

While the debate on how to revive the national economy has become increasingly partisan, Congress has been given the chance to pass a bipartisan bill that would revitalize local media across the country.

The Local Community Radio Act — introduced in the House as H.R. 1147 by Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., and in the Senate as S. 592 — would give numerous community groups the chance to broadcast local music, news and essential emergency information.

Low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations are noncommercial stations run by people invested in their local communities. They broadcast in a range of about 3 to 5 miles using 100-watt transmitters. Today, about 800 low-power stations broadcast alternatives to the “piped-in content” of the major radio conglomerates. These stations, run by real people instead of computers, value community needs — not the bottom line.

Because of restrictions placed on the licensing process, these stations only exist in rural — and a limited number of suburban – areas. The Local Community Radio Act would repeal unfair restrictions that Congress placed on the service in 2000 and would allow up to 3,000 new stations.

As an example here in the Twin Cities, 32 groups (including the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, the We Win Institute, the Minnesota Literacy Council, the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, the American Indian Center, the Alliance of Peacemakers and many more) applied for licenses that were later rejected because of these congressional restrictions. Under the Local Community Radio Act, two or three community radio stations, operated by groups such as these, could be established in the Twin Cities.

Reps. Doyle and Terry reintroduced this legislation in February, and the bill already has strong bipartisan support with more than 38 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.  Other supporters of expanding LPFM include Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., all five FCC commissioners and President Obama, who supported the legislation when he was a senator from Illinois.

This legislation is long overdue. In the eight years of limited LPFM service, low-power radio stations have revitalized local news, promoted local music, aided local businesses and provided important public safety information.

As the economy continues to slide, now is the time to build off this proven track record of success and expand community access to low-power stations across the country. With newspapers going under and job losses mounting, it’s clear we’re facing hard times.

Giving local communities access to the airwaves to inform, entertain, and protect makes us all more capable to face the difficulties ahead.

Glenn Austin of Minneapolis has long been active in causes promoting community radio, including volunteer work with KFAI Radio, Radio Re-Volt and Ballot Box Radio. He was a co-founder of the local group Americans for Radio Diversity (1997-2002).

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