Playing by the rules.

jay-refereeSo a bunch of LPFM broadcasters are pushing for full parity with their commercial broadcast brethren? It seems to me that people who are behind this push fall into one of two categories: those who secured a low-power FM channel for the purpose of “playing radio”; and those who intended from the outset to get a full-blown commercial radio station without having to go through the same process as the rest of us.

Do you notice that neither of the above groups of LPFM licensees fall into the category of “community group,” and wasn’t that the reason for the establishment of LPFM stations in the first place?

Taken in this light, the comments of the founder of the Low Power FM Advocacy Group (LPFM-AG), Dave Solomon, seem disingenuous and ironic: “People have lost their entire life savings by just trying to serve the community. It is time we stand up and take action for past, present, and future LPFM stations. The FCC must level out the playing field once and for all.”

Let me see if I have this straight: Individuals and organizations applied for, and were granted, a special-class license with clearly-defined limitations. Now Mr. Solomon is rallying these “second-class broadcasters” to action because of a trumped-up set of grievances that are irrelevant in the light of what LPFM was supposed to be in the first place.

Of course, in this country there is a long and proud tradition of distorting original intentions to achieve greed-driven objectives, and nowhere is this more evident than in broadcasting itself. Let’s recount just a few of them:

Lowest-unit-charge political advertising.

This one was sold to Americans as an opportunity for political candidates to communicate their positions on the issues, in their own voices, thereby earning a lower advertising rate. Now, of course, as long as the candidate’s voice appears on the ad—usually in a hasty “approved by” statement following 58 seconds of highly-produced, bilious, hate-filled invective about the opponent—the candidate has fulfilled the technical requirements to earn that rate.

Docket 80-90.

I will tread carefully here, because many respected broadcasters have built their empires upon this FCC action of the early eighties. Here is what small-market broadcaster Maynard Mayer said, in 2004, about this initiative:

I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90, which reduced minimum mileage separation between stations and allowed for the creation of hundreds of new FM stations across the country. The intent of this action was to open up several new local radio markets and that was, in turn, supposed to increase the local service in many communities. This, in theory, was not a bad idea. However, the Commission also relaxed the rules regarding operation from within a station’s actual city of license. As a result, many small communities were assigned frequencies, licenses were granted, but the residents of those communities are not aware of the fact that they have radio stations.

Non-commercial radio.

Until a few years ago, any non-commercial radio station that aired actual commercials—in other words, actually selling something—faced a stiff fine for doing so. Nowadays, whether from the lack of enforcement funding, the lack of non-com funding, or political pressure, these same stations are running the same commercials as you and I do.

Our last issue contained the story of one broadcast group, Beasley, that decided to take a stand by bringing suit in federal court against a noncommercial radio station that is taking the liberties we described here. We wish them all the best.

Two satellite radio companies—never to be merged. Ever.

Look how well that one worked out.

This is not the first time that I have been accused of being overly idealistic, but it sure would be nice if the spirit of well-intentioned actions prevailed, not to be perverted beyond all recognition.