COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCEL
Expanding Access to Radio Presentation (June 13, 2014)
The history of low power FM radio has a lot in common with a familiar tale. That’s
because the story of low power FM is the story of The Little Engine That Could.
It begins at the turn of the millennium. In 2000, the Commission first authorized the
creation of low power FM stations to provide noncommercial, educational, and local groups with
the opportunity to provide a community-based radio service. But that same year, Congress
passed legislation delaying the removal of third-adjacent channel separation requirements and
requiring the agency to study interference issues just a little more. That might sound like a small
thing. But it had big impact, limiting the agency’s ability to issue licenses for community
broadcasting, especially in urban areas. So the low power FM locomotive was stopped in its
tracks with tough terrain ahead.
But a stalwart group of legislators fought to change the law. Senator Cantwell, Senator
McCain, Representative Doyle, and Representative Terry banded together and developed
legislation to change those restrictive adjacent channel requirements and make it possible for low
power FM stations to be heard everywhere. So, over the course of not one, not two, but three
successive Congresses, the Local Community Radio Act was introduced, introduced again, and
introduced again. The third try was the charm. I know, because I spent quite a bit of my time as
staff on the Senate Commerce Committee helping get this legislation over hills and signed into
So, as the story goes, hard work and optimism has its rewards. The bipartisan group of
legislators who disregarded the naysayers and thought they could do more with low power FM—
I think it was worth the effort. Because there is something special about a voice in
the air. One that rises above the din and provides local radio with unique character. And in
these days of exploding global online content, there is still great value and art in community
With more low power FM, we are going to hear more of that local character. Just this
week, I got the privilege to speak to KWEM in West Memphis, a new station with an historic
call sign that is bringing rockabilly and blues back to its home along the Mississippi River. I
also spoke to KPYT in Tucson, which serves the Pascau Yaqui tribe and provides programming
that sustains its unique language, traditions, and culture. So low power FM possibilities are
powerful—and at long last, the legal framework for its expansion is in place. I, for one, can’t
wait to hear this little engine roar.
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