The FCC and Radio Ownership

Have you ever been driving in your car listening to your favorite radio station and noticed that the frequency was probably something like 97.3 or 104.7 and that when you go down to the lower channels like 89.1 they are static?

That’s because the more popular stations pay more to broadcast at higher frequencies with less static. While government regulation of media ownership and control has become more dominant in the scope of the Internet, radio regulation is still being heavily enforced.

As a result of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a single entity could only own up to 20 FM and AM stations. Today though, there is no limit to radio station ownership, thus the concentration and distribution of media is limited.

Like the pirate radio renegades from the 1960s in Europe, the United States has their own set of pirates, but instead of advocating for political freedom and more Beatles music, these pirates are mostly broadcasting about their niche networks, hobbies and favorite tunes.

It is people like Doug Brewer from Chapter 3 (a.k.a. Craven Moorehead), a Florida resident who was illegally broadcasting his “Tampa’s Party Pirate” station to everyone, that is an advocate for the “pirate radio” system.

The FCC came into Brewer’s home and confiscated his material that he was using to broadcast on. The FCC, government and the media network’s main argument for shutting down these pirate radio stations is that the unlicensed signals will interfere or drown out their other broadcasting channels, as well as other forms of communication like cell phones and TV signals.

On the other hand, people like Brewer argue that low frequency stations do not pose any threat to the higher powered stations and instead, it is the corporations that want to keep the smaller stations out.

One key point of this discussion is that, “if Brewer had produced a magazine or a website, he would have been protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment,” (Croteau, Hoynes p 79).

This is one of the main reasons why I think the FCC should improve their stance on “pirate radio” by giving out licensing to smaller micro stations because it will ensure that they are still being “regulated” in everyone’s best interest, but it will also allow the smaller stations to have airwaves.

The FCC and the other commercial broadcasters need to come to an agreement but the hardest part about ensuring equal opportunity of the airwaves, is that companies and corporations have control due to lobbying power to make executive decisions to keep smaller radio stations from getting licenses.

If pirate radio operators are forced into radio retirement, how are the little guys supposed to succeed?

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