Celine Dion is Stalking You: Local Community Radio Act Advances

By Timothy Karr, Free Press and SaveTheInternet.com - February 26, 2009

Ever get the feeling that a terrible Celine Dion song is stalking you via the radio? Every time you scan the dial there it is taunting your heart to "go on and on... forever." You're not being paranoid.

Commercial radio stations everywhere have been swallowed up by a handful of giant corporations, playlists have shrunk, and local and independent acts have been drowned out, as Big Radio soaks listeners in a mind-numbing concoction of saccharine and aspartame.

The good news is that your rescue is at hand. On Tuesday, Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would pry open our radio airwaves for thousands of new stations, bringing independent acts like Animal Collective, Rebel Diaz and Bunny's a Swine -- or your favorite local band -- to the audiences they deserve.

Unleashing Radio's Potential

The Local Community Radio Act would unleash the potential of new music for millions of listeners across the country. The bill tasks Washington with licensing thousands of Low Power FM radio stations (known in radio geekdom as LPFM).

There are about 800 low-power stations already on the air. They're run out of college campuses, garages, backyard shacks, and local churches, and aimed specifically at listeners in their surrounding neighborhood.

And they're not just airing independent music. Some are providing local news and information that in more extreme cases has kept people alive.

Hoarding Air

We made a run at getting up to 3,000 more LPFM station on the air in the last Congress; more than 100 members supported a similar bill in 2008.

But it ran afoul of Big Media's lobbying arm, the National Association of Broadcasters, which makes its living off hoarding the public airwaves for a small corporate clientele - including many of the broadcasters that put Celine Dion on your tail.

The prospects for the new bipartisan bill are better. Groups like Free Press, Prometheus Radio Project and the Future of Music Coalition are ready to fight off the lobbyists and their efforts to quash new radio. Already 1,300 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to "use new media to save old media."

And a new Twitter hash tag (#lpfm) is now generating updates as the Local Community Radio Act moves through Congress.

A Megaphone for the Many

That's something, but it may not be enough to give radio listeners real choices and new voices at every turn of the dial.

We need every member of Congress to support this bill - yes, I want unanimous support when it goes to a vote. It could be Congress's first real display of bipartisanship.

What better way to ring in a new era of participatory media than by injecting new blood into a radio system that's been a megaphone for the few, for far too long.