In this age of satellite and Internet radio, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of small, noncommercial terrestrial radio stations to independent artists.
“There is a real disparity between people who can access the Web and satellite radio and those who can’t,” musician Erin McKeown says. “There are also a lot of people who listen to the radio in their cars out of habit, and it’s easier for them to flip to a new channel than convert to satellite.”
McKeown and others who say they owe their careers to small, noncommercial stations are celebrating a recent victory. On Oct. 15, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, which eases requirements on channel separation between low-power and full-power FM stations, paving the way for more LP FMs to appear on the radio dial. The legislation will now go before the House of Representatives for a full floor vote.
LPFMs—which typically have a range of three to seven miles with transmitters of up to 100 watts—have long been an important vehicle for ethnic, religious and local community programming. And LP FMs, especially those affiliated with colleges and universities, have provided vital exposure for niche music genres and independent artists.
Getting the bill out of the House committee represents a huge step forward, according to Michael Bracy, policy director at the Future of Music Coalition.
“We had success getting the legislation through the Senate before, but this is the first time we got it past the House committee,” Bracy says. “There was a lot of consensus and not a lot of debate, either, which bodes well. I feel pretty optimistic it will pass the House in the next month and get through the Senate and signed by the end of this session. If this all happens, the licensing window would be late 2010 or early 2011.”