North East RadioWatch: April 28, 2000

WNUC Sells Again

by Scott Fybush

Finally this week, a few words about the FCC's formal Report and Order on noncommercial station licensing:

It's not a perfect solution, but NERW thinks the FCC's plan to use a point system to decide between competing applicants for noncommercial stations is a pretty good one. To recap: The plan would use a point system to choose the winners for each contested frequency, with three points going to local applicants, two to statewide public radio outlets, two to those with no other broadcast outlets, and ties decided by which applicant has the fewest other stations and pending apps.

What we really like about this proposal is this: it includes translators. What we like even more is this: it includes an immediate freeze on new noncomm applications of all kinds, until the new rules can be put into effect.

So for the mammoth translator abusers, this means that any of their applications can be easily quashed simply by the presence of a competing local allocation. That's the good part.

But the new rules also have a negative side to them. Like the LPFM rules, these rules assume that it's always in the public interest to fill any available frequency. That's not good news for noncomm stations like Boston's WUMB (91.9), which has been forced into filing defensive applications for frequencies on its own fringes to keep them from being nibbled away by new noncomms. (Under the new rules, which won't apply to currently-pending applications like WUMB's, the station would lose its 91.7 Stow proposal in favor of WAVM's power upgrade, and would lose its 91.3 Orleans application to the competing proposal from WOMR Provincetown for the frequency).

While we remain in favor of additional outlets for community broadcasting, and we think the latest noncomm plan is a huge step towards ensuring that such outlets truly belong to their communities (though we suspect the big religious chains will start using local "strawmen" to file their applications), we're increasingly convinced that there has to be a way for the FCC to begin addressing the crowding that's making huge chunks of the FM dial all but unusable in some areas. There's a difference between broadcast services like FM radio and point-to-point services like cellular and PCS, but it's getting lost quickly. How about points for existing stations trying to hang on to their fringe coverage without needing to add to the noise?

That's all for another week...see you in May!

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