Charles Clemons, one of the owners of TOUCH 106.1 FM, gives out a good neighbor award during last summer’s National Night Out. In less than three years, TOUCH has become an integral part of Boston’s black community. (Tony Irving photo)
Vowing to protest a recent $17,000 fine for broadcasting without a license, the co-owner of TOUCH 106.1 FM said he plans to demonstrate in front of the Quincy offices of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prevent what he called an attempt to stifle Boston’s only black-owned radio station.
Charles Clemons, one of the owners, readily admitted that his fight is part of a larger battle to allow low-power radio stations to flourish across the country and provide radio listeners with local alternatives to programming offered by media conglomerates.
The key issue is wattage. Low-power stations like TOUCH operate at less than 100 watts and may be heard within a seven-mile radius. FCC-licensed commercial stations must operate at 6,000 watts or more. Most urban stations operate at around 50,000 watts.
Low-powered stations have an unlikely supporter — U.S. Senator and Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who co-sponsored legislation in June 2004 that he said he hoped would lead to the creation of hundreds of community radio stations across the country.
“I look forward to hearing more local artists, local news, local public affairs programming and community-based programming on low-power FM radio stations throughout the country,” McCain said at the time, according to published reports.
Naturally, large commercial broadcasters had a problem with that. They successfully argued that smaller radio signals would interfere with their broadcasts and, as a result, should not be allowed. Congress then restricted the FCC from issuing licenses to low-power stations.
“Listeners should not be subjected to the inevitable interference that would result from shoehorning more stations onto an already overcrowded radio dial,” Edward O. Fritts, president and chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, told Wired magazine in 2004.
But the interference issue became virtually moot when the FCC hired the MITRE Corporation to conduct an independent study on the impact of low-power stations on licensed signals. Released in 2004, the findings concluded that low-power stations “do not pose a significant risk of causing interference to existing full service FM stations.”(p2)
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