Congress OKs Local Community Radio Act; WPVM hopes FCC will now lift power restrictions

“This is a day we have dreamed of since 2003 when MAIN launched its low-power FM station for Asheville and Buncombe County, only to discover that FCC rules pushed by commercial broadcast lobbyists restricted our signal to only 2 watts, instead of the 100 watts for which we are licensed,” said Wally Bowen, MAIN’s founder and executive director. MAIN operates WPVM FM (now renamed MAIN FM), a low-power station. Bowen’s comment came this weekend after Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act.

The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.

“Passage of this bill gives the FCC the green light to issue new rules that will allow us to broadcast at a full 100 watts. We eagerly await these new rules,” Bowen said.

Bowen applauded the efforts of media reform allies such as Prometheus Radio, Free Press, Media Access Project, and the Media &Democracy Coalition for spearheading the effort to win passage of the bill during Congress’s lame-duck session.

MAIN-FM first went on the air in October 2003, as WPVM 103.5 FM,the Progressive Voice of the Mountains. With the restrictive FCC rules limiting the station’s signal to only 2 watts, the station has never been consistently heard in downtown Asheville or in the city’s neighborhoods north of downtown and beyond. The station changed its name to MAIN-FM in 2009 to prevent confusion that the radio station and MAIN are separate entities.

With a power increase to 100 watts, Bowen estimates that MAIN-FM’s signal will be heard throughout Buncombe County, into Hendersonville, and possibly as far north as Mars Hill.

Congress first authorized the FCC to begin issuing low-power FM (LPFM) radio licenses to local nonprofits in 2000 when commercial broadcast lobbyists slipped the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” into an omnibus spending bill. The “poison-pill” bill, which President Clinton reluctantly signed, limited low-power FM licenses to rural communities and smaller cities, thereby protecting commercial broadcasters from low-power community-based competition in all the major US media markets.

A Huffington Post article by Timothy Karr called the bill’s passage: “Little noticed but extremely important to progressives, on Saturday afternoon Congress also passed the Local Community Radio Act. This legislation opens up radio spectrum to hundreds, if not thousands, of local independent radio stations (also known as LPFM).”

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism.

8 thoughts on “Congress OKs Local Community Radio Act; WPVM hopes FCC will now lift power restrictions

  1. zulu

    Couldn’t care less. It would just give more people the opportunity to choose NOT to listen to WPVM. The internet has rendered low power FM stations moot. We don’t need them to find “alternate” points of view anymore.

  2. MusicLover 45

    “The station changed its name to MAIN-FM in 2009 to prevent confusion that the radio station and MAIN are separate entities.”

    Silly me. All this time I thought it was that volunteer problem…..lmao

  3. WhoKnew

    There were TWO low power FM licenses issued at the same time and many wonder why the other station never had trouble with getting their signal out all over the area with the same regulations in place. Is there more to that tower story?

  4. Wally Bowen

    There were originally four potential applicants for LPFM licenses from the Asheville area: the Empowerment Resource Center, MAIN, UNCA, and Warren Wilson College. All four applicants used the same engineer. After conducting a local frequency analysis, the engineer found only two available frequencies. He then proposed joint-operating agreements if the FCC approved all four applications. In the end, the UNCA and WWC applications did not pan out. So ERC got 100.7 FM and MAIN got 103.5 FM. We learned of the signal problem when we actually went on the air in October, 2003.

  5. WhoKnew?

    Again, why did the other LPFM station not have a tower/signal problem but MAIN’s has persisted for all these years if the problem is the FCC rules that both stations have to follow?

  6. Wally Bowen

    Our frequency, 103.5 FM, is shared by a commercial station in Knoxville TN. This is called a “co-channel” situation. Because our transmitter, theoretically, could interfere with the Knoxville station, the FCC rules require us to broadcast at reduced power. The reality is that the mountains between here and Knoxville protect that station even if we did broadcast at a full 100 watts, but the original LPFM rules do not recognize physical buffers such as mountains. The new rules will be more realistic. The ERC/WRES frequency of 100.7 FM doesn’t have a co-channel conflict. These frequencies were chosen by our engineer, who studies indicated that they were the only two frequencies available at that time.

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