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Low-power radio gets FCC boost

NAB locks horns with Kennard

WASHINGTON — FCC chairman Bill Kennard said he’ll proceed with his plan to license thousands of small radio stations across the country, despite objections from the 6,000 radio broadcasters he addressed Thursday in Orlando for their annual confab.

“Low-power radio has the potential to create outlets for an array of new voices like churches, community groups and colleges,” he told the National Assn. of Broadcasters. “It can give voice to those ideas not always heard, but which many yearn to hear.”

Radio station owners and their NAB trade group adamantly oppose Kennard’s proposal because, “Our studies show that objectionable interference will be caused (by the introduction of low-power radio stations),” NAB prexy Eddie Fritts told Daily Variety.

The issue has caused some bad blood between the Federal Communications Commission and the NAB, which has lobbied hard against Kennard’s proposal. Early this summer, Kennard accused the NAB of trying to shoot down the idea without giving it serious consideration. But Fritts went out of his way Thursday to smooth any ruffled feathers.

“I am not surprised that the chairman continues to push low-power radio,” said Fritts, adding, “I believe his motivations are pure.”

Kennard stood his ground in his speech in Orlando, insisting that the FCC will conduct rigorous testing to ensure that his plan’s goals — which calls for stations ranging from 10 watts in the East to 1,000 watts in the less-populated open spaces of the West — will not cause interference problems with existing radio stations.

“I have been working with our engineers to make sure that a new low-power radio service will not interfere with the existing radio service,” said Kennard, who added that agency engineers have prepared a study which demonstrates the new radio stations will not create additional static on the dial.

Cheryl Leanza of the Media Access Project said Thursday that broadcasters’ technical arguments are a smokescreen. “In general, the broadcasters’ technical arguments are not well founded,” said Leanza. “The NAB is afraid of competition.” Leanza said MAP has commissioned its own technical study, which it will file with the FCC.

The NAB insists that the FCC’s plan would make it difficult to tune in stations on inexpensive devices such as clock radios. A participant at one panel, said Fritts, suggested that all of the 6,000 attendees of the show unplug the radios in their hotel rooms and ship them to the FCC.