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volume 2
september 1999

The interference argument


  American broadcasters argue against lower-power radio
by Howard G.L. Rose
  In February 1999 the message came through, that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to legalise the so-called micro-stations. The struggle for legal low-power community radio was over, so it seemed. Now, however, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) sharpens its arguments against this form of low-power radio.
1 Millions will suffer if FCC allows micro-radio. This claim was recently put forward by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The Federal Communications Commission's proposal to create hundreds of new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations would potentially degrade service for millions of radio listeners, according to the NAB. "The laws of science and physics do not lie," said NAB President and CEO Edward O. Fritts, who spoke at a news conference at NAB headquarters. "Low-power radio would result in a significant increase in interference for a large number of radio listeners."
2 NAB has filed comments with the FCC in response to a January proposal to create a new LPFM service. Under the FCC proposal, second- and third-adjacent channel protections for incumbent radio stations would be lifted in order to allow new stations to operate at 100- and 1,000-Watt levels. Current FCC rules base commercial FM licence allocations on a minimum power of 6,000 Watts. NAB's comments include the results of studies commissioned to estimate increased interference that could occur from the elimination of second- and third-adjacent channel protections. Independent consulting engineers tested 28 common radios covering five types — car radios, personal radios, clock radios, portables and home stereos — to illustrate "real world" performance in the 60 markets referenced by the FCC.
3 The consulting engineers' findings demonstrate that the ability of various types of radios to reject interference from closely-spaced channels may vary greatly. However, the engineers conclude that performance standards of many radio receivers have actually deteriorated in recent years, contrary to the FCC assumption that radio receiver quality has improved. Millions of Americans own such radios and live in areas where the potential for interference from new low-power stations would be great, noted Fritts. "In the 60 markets tested, fully 4.2 million people could face additional interference from proposed low-power 1,000-Watt stations," he said. "For the 100-Watt assignments, nearly six million Americans could experience interference caused directly by the low-power stations."
4 NAB's comments note that each FCC Commissioner has stated that LPFM service should not be established if it would create interference to existing broadcasters. Fritts also raised concerns regarding LPFM's impact on radio's future conversion to digital signals. "The Commission cannot tell us how the digital transmission signal will be affected by new low-power radio because a digital standard has not yet been adopted," Fritts said. "They are putting the low-power cart before the digital horse. Where is the public interest in rushing to provide a new class of radio to serve a few listeners before knowing how it would affect future digital service to all listeners?"
5 Also on hand at the NAB news conference was Bruce Reese, President and GEO of Bonneville International and chairman of the NAB Radio Spectrum Integrity Task Force. Reese said: "I cannot believe the FCC will ignore what every respectable broadcast engineer knows instinctively: that when more stations are shoved onto a congested radio dial, the result will be more interference for the listener. With all due respect, how does extra static on the radio dial translate into 'voices for the voiceless'?"
6 Both Fritts and Reese disputed claims of a lack of radio programming diversity. Critics of today's programming market "are just not listening to the radio," said Fritts, who cited the wide variety of formats in the Washington, D.C. market as evidence of expanding program diversity. Reese also noted that much of the program diversity in recent years has come in Spanish language radio. Hispanic radio stations now number more than 500, the most ever, he noted.
  This essay also appeared in The Radio Magazine of 14 August 1999, no. 383, page 30.
  1999 © Soundscapes