Low-Power Community Radio?

A comment on this post reminded me of something I was thinking a few days ago: remember when the commercial radio stations were fighting with the low-power radio stations? I haven’t been involved in this debate for a while (I used to work for a member of Congress, so I recall something of the issue; I’ve been out of politics for about 7 years, so I don’t know whether it’s still a live issue.)

Some in the community at that time were concerned about consolidation by Clear Channel and other big players, and that radio would lack local community voices…so they wanted to have extremely low-power stations that would preserve that local megaphone (or maybe I should say miniphone.)

Now we seem to have come full-circle. Clear Channel is going private and selling off hundreds of its stations. And with the advent of podcasting less than three years ago, now anybody can get as big an audience as they can attract. No FCC license needed.

In fact, that’s my working definition of New Media: anything that doesn’t require an FCC license.

Admittedly, the FCC licenses are for public airwaves, and there is a stewardship responsibility. I don’t know how exactly what the ownership rules are (and Nabisco, whose name links to the NAB site) obviously has a dog in this fight, as he properly disclosed in his comment.

Who disagrees with him and why? I can see that the broadcast stations are going to have a significant advantage in building an audience because they are using the public airwaves for transmission. But with bandwidth costs essentially approaching zero, now almost anyone has very similar ability to reach an audience through audio. And we can do video, too…which radio stations can’t, except on their web sites.

And as we see on the net, communities aren’t necessarily geographic. FIR, for instance, reaches a community of people interested in PR and technology.

In a world of infinite choice for audio entertainment and information, does it still make sense to limit ownership of local radio stations?

I don’t know…I’m sure open to hearing arguments on the other side. But it seems the days of media monopolies are over.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 14. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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