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Let Small FM Stations Bloom

One easy way for the US government to prevent media giants from dominating the radio airwaves is to allow more nonprofit groups to run low-power FM stations.

Such small-range broadcasts - of 100 watts or less - would meet the needs of local communities and help create a diversity of voices.

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The idea of opening up unused FM channels for this use was actually endorsed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2000. But then some members of Congress, who've taken campaign money from media giants in the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), brought out a red herring: They claimed the signals of the small stations would interfere with current signals. They were able to have a law passed stalling full implementation of the FCC action. A study was ordered to test the interference issue, while 238 low-powered stations were granted licenses, mainly in rural areas. (See story.)

The extensive study, by the nonprofit Mitre Corporation research firm, was released in February and found no signal interference. This only confirms that the NAB is much more worried about the potential competition for listeners than about any overlapping signal buzz.

Sens. John McCain (R) and Patrick Leahy (D) introduced a bill last week that would allow thousands of these low-power stations. For the sake of stronger communities, Congress should pass this bill.