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Fri, Oct 08 2004

Mr. Farr, Meet Mr. Stern

Congressman Sam Farr recently expressed his views on the raid on Free Radio Santa Cruz in a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. Radio Free Santa Cruz is an unlicensed (therefore categorized as pirate) low-power radio station that includes poetry, music political material and items of interest on local issues as well as national and international ones.

U.S. Senator John McCain has been working for some time to encourage easing of restrictions so that it would be simpler and faster for communities and organizations to operate low-power FM stations that benefit local residents. Earlier this year, he introduced (with co-sponsoring senators Leahy, Cantwell and Baucus) S. 2505 to do just that, but the whole idea is not being taken favorably by some, including the National Association of Broadcasters, who got pinched by the FCC some time ago for biased input concerning Low Power FM Engineering Issues. The NAB's stance is that adding low-power stations causes interference for radio listeners.

This isn't Sam Farr's first attempt to remind the FCC of its responsibilities to taxpayers. In 2000 he cautioned them that their national policies would lead to unintended clumps of power in local broadcasting, specifically in their allowing Monterey Bay area TV stations, KION and KCBA, to be sold and placed under the operation of Clear Channel Communications. In spite of Mr. Farr's protest, the deal was allowed to go through.

Oddly enough, it was controversial radio personality Howard Stern who turned all eyes on Clear Channel when they pulled his syndicated radio show off the air earlier this year. There was much speculation that the move to squelch Mr. Stern's indecency (and resulting FCC fines for Clear Channel) had been a political move, since the only recent change in Mr. Stern's format had been remarks critical of the actions of the current U.S. administration. (Mr. Stern has since opted to take his show to SIRIUS Satellite Radio.)

We all own the airwaves, so we should all have at some voice in what happens on the airwaves. Should media giants be allowed to control chunks of local broadcast markets at the same time the FCC uses taxpayer money to cart off equipment belonging to local citizens operating local radio? It's true that Free Radio Santa Cruz was/is not licensed. But if the FCC's low-power station licensing requirements are the problem, those need to be corrected in order to reflect citizen ownership of the airwaves. If the problem is coming from politicians and the appointments they make to agencies such as the FCC, citizens could choose to address that issue in voting booths and in other ways.

Whatever happens next, I find it really amusing to see what an interesting mix of people these separate issues brought to much the same arena.

posted at: 12:11 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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