WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Lee Terry’s long-running efforts on behalf of community radio bore fruit Friday.
A Federal Communications Commission vote unanimously opened the door to more low-power FM stations in urban areas, easing restrictions.
Terry, R-Neb., and Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., co-authored the legislation that led to the move supporters hope will spawn a flowering of diverse local programming in cities such as Omaha.
North Omaha community activist William King Jr. is one of those eager to get an FM license, and said Terry’s legislation helps give a voice to the voiceless.
“This is going to give us the ability to control our own words,” King said.
King’s 1690-AM “The One” has been fully operational for about a year — King’s first interview was with Mayor Jim Suttle.
But the station broadcasts at only a tenth of a watt, which King said allows for a range of one to two miles. Also available on mobile phones, the community access broadcasts feature music, spiritual programming and business-related shows.
By moving to an FM broadcast at up to 100 watts, the station would boast stereo sound and a range of three to four miles.
Not just any person off the street can apply for the new licenses. They are intended for nonprofits that serve the community.
Advocates of community radio say about 50 organizations from Nebraska and Iowa have expressed interest in one of the new licenses.
The Omaha-Council Bluffs radio market alone can expect about 24 available spots on the dial for low-power FM stations.
In an unusual move, Terry and Doyle showed up for Friday’s meeting and were praised by the commissioners for their dedication to the matter.
Terry spoke about legendary Omaha jazz musician Preston Love and the arts center named for him at 24th and Lake Streets.
The center’s executive director, Tim Clark, wants to start a low-power FM station, with the studio visible to the public through a window at the center, Terry told the FCC.
“Right now he hosts local jazz bands in that facility, but he wants to play them on the air, and local gospel, which is really incredible in Omaha,” Terry said. “And now they have that ability.”
Terry and others at the meeting touted the access the new stations will offer to minority groups, religious organizations, school boards and others.
“It’s just a tapestry of voices that is going to really enhance our communities and their culture,” Terry said.
Large commercial radio operations had resisted efforts to expand access for low-power FM stations, citing concerns that the start-ups would interfere with the clarity of their signals — concerns the commissioners said they sought to address.
In an interview with The World-Herald, Terry noted that Omaha radio executives also complained to him years ago that new low-power stations would represent potential competition.
But Terry said these will be community-oriented operations and hardly a threat to the big boys on the block.
“Z-92 will not have to fear that some station’s going to play more Led Zeppelin than they will,” Terry said.
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