Mired in eye-glazing technical language and First Amendment rhetoric, the low-power FM radio licensing issue is finally getting a little rock-and-roll sexiness.
Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Minutemen-founder Mike Watt, Jenny Toomey (of Simple Machines and Tsunami) and indie rocker Archer Prewitt have joined a grass-roots movement backing a Federal Communications Commission proposal to license 100- and 1,000-watt radio stations to private individuals. If the proposal becomes law, a record collector could, for instance, get a low-power license to broadcast his vinyl selection over a several-block area, or an inner-city health organization could broadcast safe-sex announcements in Spanish to nearby neighborhoods.
The idea is being pushed by FCC Chairman William Kennard, who believes the proposal would increase minority and noncorporate voices on the airwaves. Corporate broadcasters--which own most major radio stations--oppose the idea, fearing that the low-power stations will bleed into their frequencies. The argument will eventually be settled by whoever has the most persuasive engineering reports.
Pushing the cause has been a coalition of illegally operating "pirate" broadcasters, community radio advocates and folks who are just plain tired of corporate radio. Now they are joined by a handful of activist performers.
"Radio waves are a natural resource, and they belong to the people, but just like other natural resources, corporations will stop at nothing to gain control of the airwaves for their sole financial gain," said Indigo Girl Amy Ray in a statement.
The performers have declared Oct. 14 through today "Left Off the Dial: 10 Days for Low Power FM." Concerts performed during this period haven't been benefits officially, though some money has been raised for the Low Power Radio Coalition, an advocacy group. Instead, the performers have dedicated these shows to promoting the low-power FM cause.
The FCC will receive public comments on the issue through early next month. There is no timetable for a decision, an FCC spokesman said.