Last week, students in the Media and Communications section of the Institute for Public Representation helped fifty-seven nonprofits and Tribal organizations apply for low-power FM radio licenses as part of an effort to create more diverse, local radio stations across the country.
Should the Federal Communications Commission approve their applications, the groups would be making their first foray into broadcast media, helping fulfill the promise of low-power community radio by promoting radio options for listeners outside of the traditional FM channels.
Initially, the students helped applicants demonstrate that they met the FCC’s basic application requirements, including their good standing as nonprofit groups, county and municipal governments, schools, and Native American tribes. Groups also had to show that they are physically connected to the communities they plan to serve, reflecting the FCC’s commitment to increasing local content on the airwaves.
The FCC expected to receive thousands of applications for permits during a window that many observers regard as the biggest and best remaining chance for local groups to win space on an increasingly crowded broadcast spectrum. In light of the competition for permits, particularly in urban markets, IPR worked hard to help clients maximize their chances of getting onto the airwaves.
The FCC developed a point system to reward groups that have been in their respective communities for longer than two years and pledged to air at least eight hours a day of locally originated programming and operate a studio that would be open to the public. The applicants also received a point for having no existing media interests. IPR helped its clients clear up any issues that would have stopped them from claiming as many points as possible.
Now that groups have their applications in, they await the FCC’s announcement of which applicants for each open channel have won outright, or tied for the maximum number of points with at least one other group. Outright winners will receive permits soon, while tied groups will have an opportunity to negotiate timeshare arrangements with other applicants to their channel. Although the process from receiving a permit to getting onto the air will take time even for outright winners, proponents of community radio should look forward to more local options on their dials within the next couple of years.
This post was drafted with the assistance of Georgetown Law student Jim Davy.