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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Low Power Radio: Lost Opportunity or Success on the Dial? April 2009.

What is LPFM?

Low Power FM stations (LPFM) are community-based, non-commercial radio stations that operate at 100 watts or fewer. LPFM stations allow local broadcasters to serve their local communities. They address the interests of specific groups including neighborhoods, people of color, trade unions, and religious and linguistic communities, and provide a forum for news and debate about important local issues. Historically, community-based low power radio stations have been an important part of radio broadcasting. However, in 1978, the FCC put a freeze on issuing these low wattage licenses. This policy was reversed in 2000.

Low power radio can help promote social justice and civil rights through news and informational programming. LPFM stations work closely with local law enforcement officials and emergency service responders to save lives and rebuild communities following natural disasters and can focus on local public safety needs. LPFM stations do what mega-radio networks cannot: provide local news and meet local needs.

Low power radio is especially important given the state of the radio industry. Radio is one of our most powerful means of mass communication. Millions of Americans wake up to the radio every morning, listen to the radio on their drive to and from work, and have the radio on in their offices. Every week radio reaches 93 percent of everyone over 12 years-old.1 While hundreds of millions of people listen to the radio, only a handful of companies own and manage radio stations and control the news, information, and music most of us hear. Women and people of color own few stations and hold few positions of power; less than 6 percent of radio news directors are people of color. Media consolidation is driving out the few remaining small stations — which often are owned or run by women and people of color, and which provide programming not available anywhere else. Fewer people owning more stations and making more decisions means less diversity of views, news, and programming. Low power radio is one part of the answer to bringing women and people of color into the civic discussion via the airwaves and to expanding choices for listeners.

Despite the clear benefits of LPFM, this important service is on the verge of being a classic “what-could-have-been” story. The FCC has been trying to do the right thing, but Congress blocked the FCC’s decision. Advocates are working to persuade Congress to change its mind and let the FCC do its job: adopt reasonable rules allowing new locally programmed, low power FM radio stations to go on the air.

Next Section: Congress Second Guesses its Expert Agency on Spectrum Allocation


1. Radio Advertising Bureau, Radio Marketing Guide and Fact Book (2007).

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