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FCC order enables creation of thousands of new non-commercial local radio stations

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FCC LPFM radio map
FCC LPFM radio map

The FCC has just announced that it is prepared to implement the Local Community Radio Act — a bill that aims to give local community groups the opportunity to broadcast on low-power FM stations beyond small rural areas. The bill was signed into law in January, 2011 by President Obama after a decade of advocacy from supporters, and allows low-power stations to be created within three radio dial clicks of a major station. The bill was supported by the National Association of Broadcasters, which said that the legislation "will expand the number of LPFM stations in the US while providing full-power radio stations with the protection and clarity we have long sought." It overturned an earlier law that kept low-power radio stations primarily in rural areas, since they could only operate frequencies at least four dial clicks away from a big radio station. Now, the FCC says it's prepared to approve up to 6,000 applications for new LPFM stations.

Most of today's proceeding involved praise for the FCC's work. The bill's Congressional sponsors were present at the FCC's meeting this morning, lauding the commission's action. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) said "if you've heard LPFM radio, you know the difference. People often feel really vested in their local radio stations." And Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) said that the bill will help niche groups to gain a voice — "it's not about competing for who has the best classic rock station," he said. FCC commissioners praised the bill, citing new opportunities for minority groups, and for the potential of reliable news coverage in emergencies like Hurricane Sandy. Chairman Julius Genachowski recalled his days as a DJ at a college radio station, revealing that he was once known as "the midnight rambler."

To help future station operators identify opportunities in their communities, the FCC is also releasing a new mapping tool, along with an API, that shows the number of low-power FM channel opportunities across the country. Opportunities are still pretty slim in major radio markets (most major metropolitan areas), but the FCC says that thousands of new station applications can now be fulfilled.