The story of low-power radio is a cautionary tale on how a progressive victory can quickly be turned to conservative gain. Thanks to Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel, and Sinclair Broadcasting, the right wing has long dominated corporate media. Now religious broadcasters are busy pushing community radio right off the FM dial.
For years, media reform activists have fought valiantly to force the FCC to issue licenses for low power radio stations. Their dream: to create a space on the radio dial for true locally produced community programming, untainted by the profit considerations of large media conglomerates. Low power radio would finally give voice to those who needed it most: people of color, low-income communities, local organizations.
Five years after their victory, community radio has become the bastion of Christian programming. LPFM is being squeezed off the radio dial by religious broadcasters who are gobbling up FM frequencies at an astonishing speed. Their weapon of choice: low power translators.
Translators, which range in power from 10 to 250 watts, were created by the FCC to help boost signals of existing stations in areas where the terrain can hamper their signals. Christian broadcasters use these translators to transmit programs from their bigger full-power stations. Unlike commercial stations which can only have a translator within the receivable range of the full-power "parent" station non-commercial groups such as religious broadcasters can place their translators at any distance and feed them via satellite or other means. As a result, one full-power station can be used to broadcast programming across a number of states, vastly extending its reach, especially in rural areas. And the more translators take up low power frequencies in a community, the less room for local radio stations on the FM dial. More importantly, Christian radio networks can gain access to small communities without having to produce any local programming -- since the FCC forbids translator stations from airing such programming.
The end result: community radio is literally being crowded off the radio by religious broadcasters.
This sprawling radio network has become a powerful means to disseminate the reactionary ideological agenda of the evangelical right and its leading organizations.
The absence of alternative views on the FM dial in remote communities makes this kind of ideological programming doubly effective, and the absence of alternative local programming all the more dangerous.
Despite these concerns, the FCC has done little to check the expansion of religious broadcasters or investigate its effects on community radio. While it did institute a freeze on granting additional construction permits for translators, it was prompted by allegations of fraud leveled against two companies with ties to Calvary Chapel, which are accused of applying for 4,200 translator permits for the sole purpose of selling them to other religious broadcasters (Trafficking in translator licenses is illegal.).
Yeah, like that bothers 'em. They have friends in high places. I don't know about you, well, that's a lie, of couse I do, but I'm getting damn, no, make that goddamn, sick and fucking tired of the christo-fascist bullshit being shoved at me even though I wouldn't be caught dead listening to any of it. What bothers me is that God, Inc. is threatening to displace good alternative music and viewpoints and replace them with the corporate don't-listen-to-the-voice-of-reason, we-know-what's-best-for-you-so-shut-up-and-do-what-we-tell-you, or-we'll-kill-you crap that's ruining America.