Religious groups bless FCC radio proposal

Wednesday, May 19, 1999

Religious leaders meeting last week with the -Federal Communications Commission gave their blessing to an agency proposal that would create a class of low-power, low-cost radio stations.

In a May 13 roundtable discussion at First Congregational Church in Washington, D.C., FCC Chairman William Kennard told representatives of several religious organizations that a license for small, local stations could give them unprecedented access to the nation’s airwaves.

Last January, the FCC embarked on an effort that could create thousands of new, licensed radio stations ranging in power from 1 watt to 1,000 watts. Such a program would end a ban of more than 20 years on such licenses.

Although Kennard has generated considerable grass-roots support for a low-power licensing plan, the broadcasting industry and a number of key Republican members of Congress have strongly opposed opening the nation’s airwaves to additional radio stations.

Led by the National Association of Broadcasters, the industry contends that adding hundreds of low-power stations will pollute the broadcast spectrum. Officials say the FCC’s main responsibility is to prevent interference.

Although he agreed that the FCC must maintain the spectrum’s integrity, Kennard said his primary responsibility was to “ensure that the public spectrum is used to benefit all Americans.”

“As I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve met dozens of people who want to use the airwaves to speak to their communities — churches, community groups, elementary schools, colleges and minority groups,” Kennard told the roundtable participants. “In the commission’s proposal for a low-power radio service, these people see the opportunity to have their voices carry through their communities.”

Church officials said micropower radio would offer a low-cost way to give churches and minorities a voice on the airwaves.

“We have fought for this for nearly 50 years,” said the Rev. Everett Parker of the United Church of Christ, a Cleveland-based church with 6,200 churches in the United States and Puerto Rico.

“There is a crying need for people to be able to get accurate, unbiased news and information about their localities,” said the Rev. Joan Campbell, general secretary to the National Council of Churches.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.