by Dan Bolles
Earlier this year, I wrote a mildly tongue-in-cheek open letter to Vermont's senior Senator, Patrick Leahy, urging him to "hotline" the Local Community Radio Act, a bill he originally co-sponsored with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen John McCain (R-AZ), among others. To refresh your memory, the bill would ease adjacency restrictions on the FM dial and allow a greater number of low power FM stations (think 105.9 FM WOMM-LP the Radiator) to operate. Theoretically, this means more variety and localism on an increasingly bland, homogenized spectrum, more community involvement in what is broadcast on our public airwaves (they're all public, BTW) and, well, hunky dory, warm fuzzy feelings all around.
A few days after that piece ran, Senator Leahy actually called me back. After I got over the initial shock of speaking to one of the most powerful men in the country, we settled into a legitimate discussion on the merits of the LCRA legislation, the hurdles the bill has faced along the way and why it had yet to pass — it was proposed in 2005. Asked for his take on the bill's fate at the end of our conversation, Leahy said, in no uncertain terms, "It will pass. Soon."
It turns out he was right. Saturday, the bill finally passed the Senate, and unanimously at that. It easily passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.
In press release sent from his office yesterday, Leahy says, “By using low power stations, community groups can access underutilized spectrum and provide content tailored to smaller communities.” He continues, saying, “This legislation is important because LPFM stations provide opportunities for local organizations to serve local communities. Vermont has LPFM stations serving local communities in Vermont from Hyde Park to Brattleboro to Warren. There is room for more.”
Pending the signature of President Obama, local airwaves could indeed see more LPFMs in communities all over the state. Christmas miracle?