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NPR fears force of low-power radio

Pubcaster fears its signal may be in danger

WASHINGTON — National Public Radio has joined the fight against low-power radio.

The pubcaster filed papers Friday at the FCC, urging the agency to delay its plan to license thousands of microradio stations, able to reach an area of a few blocks in an urban area or a few square miles in sparsely populated rural areas.

NPR told the Federal Communications Commission that it is concerned that if the agency suddenly releases a litter of microradio stations, it could wreak havoc on the pubcaster’s own outlets. NPR said it was particularly concerned about the possibility that the hatchlings would interfere with its broadcast reading service for the visually impaired.

Commercial broadcasters have been vocal critics of the FCC’s plan to license the low-power radio stations since it first became public more than a year ago, claiming that the new service may cause interference with their radio signals. The National Assn. of Broadcasters has succeeded in lining up several members of Congress to support legislation that would force the FCC to stop its low-power radio initiative. It has also filed a lawsuit against the FCC’s plan in federal court.

Gentle pressure

NPR president and CEO Kevin Klose said his organization has opted for the administrative rather than legislative and judicial remedies pursued by the NAB. “We don’t have a position on the legislation,” Klose said.

Because the NAB has filed in court, it cannot seek redress at the FCC, one legal expert said. But Klose denied suggestions by some that NPR’s filing at the FCC is part of a coordinated attack with the NAB.

Media watchdog Andrew Jay Schwartzman said he is “disappointed in NPR’s decision to fight low-power radio.”

But FCC chairman Bill Kennard continues to push for low-power radio, insisting that it is one potential antidote to growing concentration in the radio industry. Since Congress relaxed the ownership rules for radio in 1996, the industry has undergone massive consolidation, with thousands of radio stations changing hands. One way to ensure that local communities continue to have a voice in broadcasting, even though most big radio stations have absentee owners, is to start handing out licenses at the local level, according to Kennard.

So far, neither NPR nor the NAB has succeeded in blocking the FCC from moving ahead with its plan. Indeed, the agency has released a schedule for anyone who wants to file for a microradio license.

NPR said it would conduct its own engineering experiments to determine how much, if any, interference the new radio outlets may cause.

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