Low-power ahead

At the same time the FCC has been tilting toward more deregulation — and therefore consolidation — other groups across the country have been campaigning the federal agency for low-power FM licenses that would allow small radio stations to broadcast in a three- to seven-mile radius.

Locally, three applicants are seeking low-power licenses: UNCA, the NAACP and the Mountain Area Information Network, says Wally Bowen, executive director of Citizens for Media Literacy (under whose auspices MAIN falls). Though it’s been nearly a year since the applications were filed, Bowen doesn’t think the FCC can renege — even though the National Association of Broadcasters did everything they could to kill low-power FM.

“The cows are out of the barn,” says Bowen. “I don’t think the Bush FCC can really stop the issuing of the license.”

Meanwhile, a battle in the federal courts is taking place over whether so-called pirate broadcasters can apply for low-power FM licenses — which would include the local Free Radio Asheville collective, broadcasting illegally at 107.5. Though a February court ruling, based on a First Amendment argument, favored micro broadcasters, another hearing has been scheduled for no later than September to revisit the issue.

“Furious George,” one of Free Radio Asheville’s founders, notes that the collective was formed in 1998 to combat media concentration and commercially influenced public radio — albeit by going underground to commandeer the airwaves for the use of local voices.

As soon as the structure is in place to allow Free Radio Asheville to apply for a low-power FM license, it plans to do so, notes Furious George. But even if FRA doesn’t succeed in winning a license, he thinks the collective’s goal of a place on the dial for genuine noncommercial radio will have been reached, simply through their four years of pirate broadcasting.

“It just shows that every once in a while, if you work long enough and hard enough, you can pull something from the teeth of something as big and ugly as the federal government,” offers Furious George.

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