Bill Virgin's Radio Beat November 8, 2007

Includes archive of Bill Virgin's columns fromJ une 2006 - March 2009

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat November 8, 2007

Postby radiofan » Wed Nov 07, 2007 9:20 pm

On Radio: FCC turns up volume on local radio

While there's likely to be an abundance of verbal posturing and sniping at Friday's Federal Communications Commission hearing Friday in Seattle on media ownership, there's one issue on which many of the parties are actually in agreement: putting more local content into local radio.

To that end, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has in recent weeks talked about reviving a concept that at one time generated considerable excitement but in recent months has been largely dormant: low-power FM stations.

In testimony last month to the House Committee on Small Business, Martin said that "low-power FM provides a lower-cost opportunity for more new voices to get into the local radio market. The commission currently is considering an order that would ensure that LPFM stations have reasonable access to limited radio spectrum."

There's been other action on the LPFM front. Earlier this week, reports Radio-Info newsletter, the Senate Commerce Committee voted in favor of a change in spectrum licensing that could effectively open up more room on the FM dial for more stations. The Senate version of the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 was co-introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Low-power FM stations are non-commercial outlets that operate over a limited area with up to 100 watts of power (KUOW-FM/94.9, by contrast, operates at 100,000 watts of power). The FCC created the category in 2000, took in hundreds of applications and approved some to go on the air.

The theory behind LPFM was that the stations could be put on the air relatively easily and cheaply by governmental, community, educational, religious, cultural and other non-profit groups to provide local coverage and programming abandoned by many larger, commercial broadcasters.

In reality, the concept collided with competition from established broadcasters who argued the proliferation of LPFM stations would generate interference with their existing signals.

There's also the matter of competition for limited spectrum. As Radio-Info recently noted, LPFM stations will, in metropolitan markets such as Seattle, be going up against broadcasters trying to shoehorn new stations onto the FM band, and AM stations looking for FM translators for their signal. Radio-Info predicts a lobbying collision between activist groups such as the Prometheus Project, which is pushing for LPFM's expansion, and the National Association of Broadcasters.

One example of the competition for spectrum is KCFL-LP, a low-power station that operated in the Fall City area. That station's allocation has been caught up in the effort to move an Oregon station to this region, and then to move its transmitter closer to Seattle. The uncertainty over the station's future "made it impossible to raise money," says Sandi Woodruff, a broadcast consultant who has worked with LPFM stations in the region. Consequently, KCFL isn't operating.

Even if those issues get resolved, LPFM faces one other major challenge: sustaining and paying for stations once they're on the air.

Many of the LPFM stations operate with volunteer help, but they still need some sort of financial support to get by.

Woodruff says one station she has worked with in Aberdeen shifted in May from an oldies format to talk with a left-leaning perspective.

Studio and transmitter space is donated, with community contributions funding operating expenses.

What that station learned, Woodruff says by e-mail, is that "people need an emotional attachment to a program in order for them to donate." They won't contribute just to keep a station on the air, but they will for a specific program. "People have to fear a show's loss enough to make a contribution or the station doesn't make it." A unique music format, she says, "will fail to generate much income."

In other radio notes:

KSER-FM/90.7 plans to broadcast Friday's FCC's Seattle hearing on media ownership. Pacifica Network's coverage begins at 3 p.m.; the hearing itself starts at 4 p.m. at Town Hall in Seattle. KBCS-FM/91.3 will air the event live from 6 to 9 p.m.

Larry Nelson, the longtime morning voice for KOMO-AM/ 1000 (he retired in 1997), is battling a critical illness, according to friend and one-time co-worker Tim Hunter. "It would be great for listeners and fans to drop him a line and let him know how he touched their lives," Hunter writes. Fans and friends can send messages to or to Larry Nelson, 677 120th Ave. N.E., #130, Bellevue, WA 98005.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart perform live in the "Mountain Music Lounge" at 3:15 p.m. Thursday on KMTT- FM/103.7.

The Curious Mystery performs on "Sonarchy" at midnight Saturday on KEXP-FM/ 90.3

The Sunday edition of Jim French's "Imagination Theatre," heard at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on KIXI-AM/880, includes a new episode of 1930s English detective Hilary Caine.

KVTI-FM/ 90.9 broadcasts live a forum on parenting, education and personal responsibility hosted by comedian Bill Cosby at Clover Park Technical College, at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat every Thursday in the Seattle P-I
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
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