Defining Public Interest in the Micro Radio Debate: Canadian v. U.S. Policies
Canadian and American polices on Low Power Radio, also known as "Micro Radio," differ greatly despite the apparent similarities between the two nations. In fact, the different policies concerning Low Power Radio reflect the unique cultural and historical differences between Canada and the US that are often overlooked by the casual observer. I will first breifly explore the differences between the two cultures using larger historical events and the broader insights of literary criticism as window on national identity. Second, I will highlight the development of broadcasting and broadcast regulation in both Canada and the US. Finally, I will explore how these systems compare and are currently evolving in their treatment of low power FM radio.
Canada and the United States: Similarly Different.
" ...the unique experience of national life generates a national, collective consciousness, or in some formulations, a 'collective unconsciousness' marked by a distinctive set of values, tensions, myths, and psychological foci, that produces in turn a certain readily identifiable national character...." "This character, and the values tensions, and myths from which it spring, is then discernible in indigenous cultural products (p.1)."
Nationalism and Literature: The Politics of Culture in Canada and the United States
S. M. Corse.
Radio is an indigenous cultural product. To understand how radio developed in the US and Canada, it is important to understand that, despite common roots, these two national cultures are distinct in a number of ways. This can be viewed through the respective national histories as well as each nations literary tradition. The literature, and therefore the culture, of each nation was developed during the nation building process and at distinct historical junctures. This is a firm reflection of how culture and attitudes, and therefore the management of broadcasting, developed so differently in the US and Canada. Is this section I will explore the historical forces that effected national cultures concluding in there reflection in national literary archetypes to define national perspectives (Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
Both Canada and the US were founded in the Puritan Calvinist tradition. How this tradition manifested in the New World is where these two nations began to diverge. Much more severe and demanding than their Northern counterparts, New England Calvinists stressed depravity of man and the graphic qualities of hell as well as self-reliance and the responsibility of the individual. In a natural reaction to the established church which the colonies fled from in England, the pilgrims developed an aversion to hierarchical, centralized, or extensively structured religious systems. Canada, by contrast, had a well organized, firmly established church system among Protestants as well as Catholics. Canadians had the security of reliance on established church institutions and detailed codes of behavior. Further, Canadian puritans tended to see things in grays, rather than black and white. Although Puritanism has been milder than in the US, it has lasted longer and changed less. Rather than a military separation as what happened in New England, Canada's independence from England evolved as a slow and gradual easing of legislative, legal, and ritualistic ties (Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
Benjamin Franklin was a primary actor in the split of Puritanism is the US. Where the principles of industry, self-reliance, and worldly success as signs of god's grace were still valued, the American materialist tradition advocated by Franklin removed the deity, replacing it with a succession of status symbols. As a reaction to the conformism of the materialism mainstream, American artists and intellectuals elevated and glorified the principle of self-reliant individualism. It's focus being personal ethics, the capacity and the right of each person to think for themselves and to act accordingly. This is often manifested in literature by rugged western moving frontiersmen and the "boot strapped" immigrant (Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
The United States split-off from Great Britain through revolution. A defining moment of a parting of ways. The separate American colonies were drawn together by common religious ethics and self-preservation. Canada, on the other hand, had no defining separation. Moreover, the population was not as homogeneous, being culturally split between the dominant English settlers and conquered French in Quebec. Canada's confederation in 1867 was not an indication of strong Canadian nationalism, but a marriage of convenience and as protection from a ravenously expansionist US. This long standing tension was exacerbated in the wake of the American Civil War.
Following it's tremendous contribution to the allies during World War 1, Canada was officially recognized as an equal partner to England in the common wealth in 1926. Finally, 64 years after Confederation, it became an independent nation state with the passing of the Statute of Westminster by the British parliament in 1931. A complete Constitutional separation, put forth in the early 1980's, is still hotly debated in 1999. Despite this gradual move towards unity, Provinces have maintained a distinct identity far in excess of any of the American states. Such was the lack of enthusiastic nationalism, Newfoundland did not officially join the Dominion of Canada till 1949, 73 years after the fact (Bothwell et al, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
This mythic split in American culture, individualism and conformism often played out as materialism vs. intellectual individualism, did not take place in Canada. Canadians were still dependent on institutions whose best interests where met by not encouraging individualism and self-reliance. So the old puritan ethic slowly eroded over the years. This resulted in a more centrist attitude, rather than a distinct separation between intellectual and capitalist ethics as was the case in the US (Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
The US myth was one of positive expansionism and manifest destiny epitomized as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the US Constitution. In Canada the myths were more muddled. The drafters of the Confederation opted for "peace, order, and good government." The European pioneers of Canada consisted of United Empire Loyalists forced out of the US, disposed Scots, the French after the conquest, and the Irish and Eastern Europeans. These groups were not riding the wave of victory. The myths in the US, pioneer spirit, rugged individualism, and aggressive manifest destiny were reenforced as the US moved west. In Canada, the westward movement was more subtle and slow. Where the US conquered, the Canadians accommodated, challenged by the severe climate and out numbered by the native populations (Bothwell et al, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
We can see the emerging identities of Canada and the United States developing through this time. The Canadians prefer a middle ground of accommodation and slow evolution, more accepting of government and institutions, and focusing on wider social responsibilities. Canada's slow movement towards statehood spanning decades and the need to accommodate a culturally split society. The US was born in revolution and the dramatic splits from Britain, within the puritan tradition, between the capitalists and intellectuals, and the north/south split of the Civil War. Americans value the individual and have an inherent distrust of authorities and institutions, preferring competition to regulation (Corse, 1997; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
Thus two different cultures approach the regulation and definition of a radical new communication technology, radio. What radio's use should be, who would control it, or more importantly, should it be controlled, became important questions of the day. Those who debated these issues are products of their nations histories and cultures, therefore the issues were framed along these lines. The added burden was on Canada, who had take into account the influence of a culturally powerful southern neighbor. The fear of being physically absorbed by a expansionist America in the 19th century was replaced by the fear of being culturally absorbed in the twentieth. It is here we approach the specific issues of broadcast regulation.
In the Beginning: The Emergence of Broadcasting
As in many western nations, Canada and the U.S. struggled with what to do with the emerging technology of radio in the first 30 years of the twentieth century. Radio was widely used by many segments of the population, educational institutions, all types of corporations, political and social groups, governments, and of course commercial broadcasters. It quickly became apparent that some sort of centralized regulation was needed in order for the spectrum to be used in an efficient manner. With the technology of the day, AM transmitters could send signals hundreds of miles or farther depending on atmospheric conditions. This, combined with the proliferation of new stations, wreaked havoc with reception. This level of interference did not bode well for the acceptance of radio by the general public or its use a public service and commercial enterprise. Starting early in the century and continuing into the 1930s, both Canada and the U.S. instituted licensing polices and controls to reduce the on-air chaos and maximize coverage and the quality of reception. While the general regulatory goals where the same in both countries, their implementation and approach were quite different (Barnouw, 1966; Engleman, 1996; CBC, 1976).
The United States: The Golden Rule
The United States became concerned with the proliferation of radio transmitters, especially those in foreign control. Marconi, the Italian pioneer of radio, had already developed a series of transmitters in the U.S. and other nations. This gave Marconi an advantage in the development of radio that the U.S. found unacceptable. In response, the American government collaborated with several major corporations, Westinghouse, General Electric, and AT&T to form the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). These corporations were producing, transmitting, and receiving hardware and seeking to exploit radio for commercial purposes. The government relied on the guidance of RCA for the best strategy to organize the spectrum. These companies had a tremendous influence on the establishment of technical standards, rules and regulations for the Radio Act of 1927. RCA's Congressional influence also affected appointments to the Federal Radio Commission (FRC). (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
(those with the most gold make the rules)
Prior to 1927, a wide variety of organizations were involved in broadcasting. Universities and other educational institutions, churches, labor unions, radio clubs and others explored uses fore the new medium. Non-commercial broadcasting flourished. While the RCA consortium concentrated on the development of broadcasting technology, these pioneering broadcasters cultivated and educated an audience for radio and created a demand for the devices. Educational stations alone grew from 70 in 1923 to 94 by 1927. However, by 1927, the financial possibilities for commercial radio had become apparent. Through the influence of RCA and other commercial interests, proponents of educational and social uses for radio were excluded from the process when broadcast regulations were negotiated with the FRC. No representatives of educational and non-commercial stations or their advocates were invited to the regulatory hearings. The result of these meetings was General Order 40 which reallocated the spectrum heavily in favor of commercial radio (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
Over the course of the next few years, many smaller and non-commercial stations lost their licenses to commercial radio interests, such as the newly-created National Broadcasting Company (NBC). This period established what I will term the "technical superiority model." Essentially, those who had the best technology (those with the most money) and those who had technology that used the spectrum in the most efficient manner, got the licenses. Moreover, the licensing process evolved to require large amounts of capital to obtain or defend a broadcasting license, resources that most non-commercial stations did not have. By 1931, there were only 49 licensed educational radio stations. The same year, the two dominant networks, NBC and the newer Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), accounted for almost 70% of all broadcasting hours in the United States (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
In 1934, the educational, religious, and other non-commercial stations attempted to influence the re-writing of the Radio Act. The Wagner-Hatfield Act called for a complete reorganization and reallocation of existing licenses. This included set-a-sides for educational and non-commercial stations. This bill would be the last big push to open up the spectrum. However, by that time commercial broadcasting, as represented by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), had grown to have immense influence in Congress. Wagner-Hatfield did not pass. The Communications Act of 1934 followed the lead of the Radio Act of 1927 and General Order 40. This solidified control of American broadcasting by commercial interests and the large networks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created and staffed with industry-friendly appointees. The FCC, with the support of Congress, determined that the public would be best served by a strong commercial, privately owned, broadcasting system. Priority was put on managing the spectrum to encourage a "free market" (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
The FCC declared there were too few licenses for everyone to have their own station. Educational, social, and religious groups were simply encouraged to go to their local commercial station for air-time. The Commission and commercial broadcasters argued that if there were demand for such programming, the commercial broadcasters would make time for them. On the surface this seemed to make sense, since drawing an audience was the basis for commercial radio's income. As long as these commercial stations operated under the vague notion of being "in the public interest, convenience, and necessity" (Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C.A. 303) the FCC was satisfied. The FCC was more interested in the technical aspects, a well ordered spectrum, and the generation of revenue through licensing fees. The commercial broadcasters themselves sought to self regulate to avoid potential government intervention. Low power stations did exist, primarily utilized by the few non-commercial stations that survived the spectrum purges of the 1930s. However, for the most part the larger high power and clear channel stations and the networks that supported them ruled the day. The large-scale commercial model became the American broadcasting model. By 1945, there were only 29 licensed educational stations on the AM dial, fewer than one-third the number in 1927 (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
Through the appearance of television and development of FM radio, the FCC continued to manage the spectrum in the United States. Not until the 1960s was there any serious discussion of radio spectrum reallocation. FM was of little use to commercial broadcasters in the U.S. when it came into use after World War II. Few receivers existed and the service was unknown. Many FM licenses were Class D (10 watt) and were used as an entrée into broadcasting by numerous educational institutions. Taking the lead again, educational stations began appearing on FM band. By the time commercial radio caught up in the 1960s, FM had been already been colonized educational and non-commercial broadcasters. Inspired by the success of Pacifica Radio and the interest in Public Television, advocates for a U.S. public radio system pushed for and succeeded in getting radio included in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. This created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to oversee and fund public radio and television. National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) were created as divisions under the CPB for the development and management of radio and television respectively. There were many political struggles through the 1970s, but a steady number of public radio stations (often educational) began to appear. Many stations on this new band were low power. Little federal funding existed and many of the small stations struggled to survive. In 1978, the CPB approached the FCC and lobbied the agency to eliminate the Class D license. No new low-power licenses would be granted and the existing ones would be up-graded to higher wattage or phased out. The rational was that the public was better served by fewer, larger, more financially secure stations. The CPB had determined this was the best way to ensure the survival of public radio. After 1978 the minimum-powered station allowed in the United States was 100 watts (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
Canada First: Broadcasting and the Nationalist Cultural Cause.
Canada took steps to regulate radio, first in 1905 with the Wireless Telegraph Act and later with the Telegraph Act in 1913. However, regular broadcast service did not come into existence until 1919. In 1905, Parliament named the Department of Marine and Fisheries as the federal licensing authority for radio. As in many nations, World War I had tremendous effect on the Canadian people. Political power shifted between provinces and there was a substantial rise in nationalism. Canadians were shocked at the European political and social system's inability to prevent the Great War. This led to a great deal of introspection and an examination of Canada's identity as a separate nation and people. Canada was a relatively socially and religiously pious state compared with Britain or other European nations. In this way it resembled the U.S. with whom it had close connections. Rather religious in a variety of Christian denominations, Canadians took their socialism from this religious perspective. This resulted in a rather fundamental sort of morality, a doctrine of "uplift" that permeated broadcasting as well. Major influences were the Fabian (peaceful spread of socialism) tradition, populism and Puritanism, Protestantism, the Grange, and labor movements (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
As in the U.S., there were a wide variety of groups broadcasting. Many of these were the leagues or societies that developed during the nationalistic fervor following the First World War. Unlike the U.S., the Canadian government did not "anoint" a guardian of Canadian radio (like RCA) and the spectrum developed relatively unhindered. Stations were owned by radio clubs, large corporations, a railroad, radio manufacturers, newspapers, church groups and universities; and in one case by the Manitoba provincial government. By 1929 more than 75 Canadian stations, both French and English, had been licensed. Canadian National Railways (CNR) presided over the first national network of stations. CNR gradually developed a regular network service, connecting its own stations in Ottawa, Moncton and Vancouver, and about a dozen private stations across the country which it leased (CBC, 1976).
Canada had many obstacles to overcome in establishing a broadcasting service that could serve the entire country. Much more sparsely populated than the United States, Canadian radio stations tended to cluster around the larger population centers. These urban areas provided the best commercial markets. This left many of the less populated areas unserved. East to west distribution of national programming was costly due to the relatively small and scattered population. Therefore, broadcasting coverage of the interior and north was very limited. In spite of periodic negotiations with the United States, only six frequencies were exclusively Canadian. Many Canadian stations were comparatively very low power. There was continual interference from powerful American and Mexican stations. All told, Canadian broadcasters reached little more than half the population. Only CNR did much about Canadian programming (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
It was easier and cheaper to use popular American programs or recorded music, so most Canadian stations offered little else. There was a growing public discontent with these conditions, and some heated controversy over licensing. Many of the clubs, universities, and churches which had entered radio were well connected with political, cultural, and intellectual elites in Canada and had a great deal of influence. These groups were concerned with preserving and developing Canadian culture. With the electromagnetic bloodshed south of the border and the rising power of commercial U.S. radio (which covered much of Canada and was very popular), these Canadian groups and institutions began pushing for a national radio policy. For many, it seemed a choice between "the State or the United States" when it came to Canadian radio (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
Discussions over a national broadcasting policy began in December 1928, when the Canadian government appointed a Royal Commission to examine the broadcasting situation in the Dominion of Canada and to make recommendations to the government. The Aird Commission studied broadcasting in the U.S., Britain, and several European countries and held numerous meetings across Canada. Canadians overwhelmingly voiced support for Canadian broadcasting, although there was disagreement on how to organize it. The Aird Report was presented to the House of Commons in September 1929. It made several recommendations and stressed the importance of broadcasting in promoting national unity. The report was skeptical of financing an adequate national service from commercial revenue and recommended that a nationally-owned company be set up, directed by a voluntary board, to operate a national system. Revenue was to come from three sources: (1) an annual $3 license fee for each receiving set; (2) from a form of underwriting with the sponsor's name would be given, but not commercials for his goods; and (3) from a government subsidy for capital expenditures. Programs were to be mainly from Canadian sources, and programming control was to be shared with the various provinces. The report further recommended that a national network be built consisting of seven high-powered stations across the country, with supplementary small stations to fill in the gaps in coverage. Some existing private stations were to be expropriated, and others closed down. Technical control was to remain with the radio branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries. However, the political and social turmoil of the period delayed action on the Aird Report in parliament (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
During this lull, many of the groups that supported a national publicly-owned broadcasting system began to martial their forces. The most notable of these was the Radio League, established in 1930. By 1932 the League managed to gather considerable support. This included farm, labor and women's groups; educational institutions; national organizations; church leaders; a majority of Canadian newspapers; and many influential individuals. This support was widespread in both French and English Canada and was, in many ways, drawn from the quest for a uniquely Canadian cultural identity that had been building since the First World War.
There was, of course, opposition to the Aird Report, mainly from CNR, commercial stations, manufacturers, and American broadcasting interests. However, supporters of a public system had gained the initiative and the government passed on the Aird Report to a parliamentary committee. This committee recommended a public national system, but stopped short of the full recommendations of the Aird Report (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
Rather than the public company recommended by the Aird Report and supported by the Radio League and its cohorts, a three-person commission would be the broadcasting authority. This Commission would develop and operate a national network by building new stations and nationalizing others. Individual privately owned stations not required for the national network would be allowed to continue. However, privately owned networks that might compete with the national network would be prohibited. The commission would have regulate all stations and make recommendations to the government on licensing. Financially the national network was to be "self-sustaining," with revenue coming only from underwriting and from whatever license fees the government might set. The Canadian Parliament took up broadcasting policy discussions in 1932 and passed the Canadian Broadcasting Act that year, establishing the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
The CRBC began a program for building and nationalizing stations as well as providing Canadian content. Private stations were required to carry certain CRBC programs. Political forces, including a lack of funding and autonomy, limited the CRBC's efforts to grow the network. While the CRBC expanded the number of stations and increased programming, it still fell short of its goals. Despite a network of 26 stations and 31 other stations carrying CRBC programming, less than half the Canadian population was capable of receiving CRBC programming by 1936. Moreover, those who could pick up the network were only afforded limited broadcasting hours. These factors, combined with other political conflicts, led to a reassessment of broadcasting regulation. The CRBC was replaced by a public corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) in 1936 (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
There was further debate in Parliament and broadcasting circles over how radio would be controlled and regulated. A national system, consisting of public stations much like the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in Britain had many supporters, but the government eventually decided upon a more open system. Privately-owned stations that were not needed for the national network would be allowed as subsidiary stations, but would be regulated by the CBC. They would be allowed to air commercials and would be required to carry certain CBC programming. This system would not be modeled on the Briton's or the American's, but a with elements of both. It would be uniquely Canadian (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
The arrival of television in the 1950s hastened a re-evaluation of Canadian broadcast regulation and the appointment of the Fowler Commission which produced a report in 1958. The Fowler Report recommended separating the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) from the responsibility of broadcast regulation and the creation of a Board of Broadcast Governors. These recommendations became law with the passage of the Broadcasting Act of 1958. Spurred by the perceived intrusion of American broadcasting, the Broadcast Fowler Commission was formed in 1964 and a year later issued a report that became the basis for the Broadcasting Act of 1968. This Act established the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) to regulate broadcasting and insure the domination of the CBC, Canadian-owned broadcasting stations, and Canadian-produced content. In 1976 the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act further consolidated control of the CRTC and changed the Canadian Radio and Television Commission to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (Bothwell, Brummond, & English, 1989; Bumsted, 1993; CBC, 1976).
Contrasting Approaches on LPFM
There are several areas I will explore in contrasting the different approaches to low power radio in Canada and the United States. First there are some basic demographic differences between the two nations such as population densities and distribution, diversity of cultures, and the presence of indigenous industry that need to be briefly addressed. Due to the historical events surrounding the infancy of radio in Canada and the United States, a different "psychology" has emerged in each nation's approach to radio and its regulations. I will use this "theme" as I explore several of the more pertinent aspects of regulations and low power radio. These aspects are: localism and diversity, qualifying for access, and the public interest.
To clarify the comparison between Canadian and U.S. regulations for radio, it is important to first look some basic physical differences and their general effects. While both nations have large open spaces and heavy population clusters, the U.S. has always had less of the former and more of the latter. The US population is roughly 10 times that of Canada. Canada's primary population clusters are around major cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Ontario and Montreal. Much of Canada is very rural and scattered out of broadcast range of these major centers. In the United States, large population centers are more evenly distributed and stations based at these hubs are able to serve a larger percentage of the population. Many areas of Canada have active divergent cultures that would not necessarily be attractive enough to be served by a commercial radio enterprise, like isolated aboriginal and other communities. Canada also has a large area that is culturally and linguistically different than most of the nation, Quebec. American culture is more homogenous in terms of language and cultural identity. The U.S., as a heavily industrialized nation, has historically come to depend on the input of certain corporations and industries when making national policy. The creation of RCA and its pivotal role in the making of U.S. broadcasting policies is an example of this. This is in contrast to Canada, which did not have an entrenched broadcasting industry that was powerful enough to control the distribution of spectrum resources in the early days (Barnouw, 1966; Bothwell et al, 1989; Metcalfe et al, 1982).
Localism and Diversity
The issues of localism and diversity have been passionately debated on both side of the border. This is especially true in the United States since the emergence of the micro radio movement in the early 1990s. Media consolidation in the commercial market and subsequent reduction in locally owned radio stations; internal political battles at Pacifica Radio (the only independent, national non-profit, non-commercial radio network); the move towards "professionalization" of participants in National Public Radio affiliates and their increasing dependence on network programming; and the absorption of smaller public radio stations by larger stations have contributed to a decline perception in localism and diversity in radio. Localism and diversity, once the purview of radio activists, were addressed by FCC Chairman Kennard in his remarks concerning the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as well as in comments before the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Not surprisingly, Canada and the U.S. have taken different approaches on these issues (FCC, Feb. 1999; Pressman, 1999).
Canada, in many ways, has taken a top-down approach to ensure a variety of programming exists through the CBC. Whereas the U.S. has interpreted the First Amendment of the Constitution as prohibiting all but the narrowest form of content control, Canada has no such restrictions. Both nations view the spectrum as a limited public resource worthy of protection and regulation, but the degree of control and its source diverge. Canada has seen fit to mandate that a certain percentage of broadcasting be of Canadian origin and that stations carry certain CBC content as a condition for operation. Considering Canada is situated next to the most powerful "media state" in the world, a certain amount of "cultural protectionism" is to be expected. Further restrictions apply to the amount of hours per week that can be dedicated to advertisements. This national level of control puts a burden on the CBC to maintain a variety of programming. Rather than a burden of audience share and the resulting rise or fall of profits, it is the pressure of the public and the Parliament that drives CBC programming policy . While there is mandated programming from the CBC and CRTC regulations, these are balanced by a great deal of autonomy for CBC and independent commercial and non-commercial stations at the provincial and local level (CBC, 1976; CRTC, 1999).
Low power community radio in Canada was more a matter of the government following the lead of the people. Community radio started in the in the small, isolated aboriginal communities in northern Canada. Most of these stations were homemade and at the time unlicensed. Equipment was often scavenged from sources in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or the Department of Indian Affairs. These early broadcasters had seen how communication equipment had aided the outsiders in their northern operations and quickly adopted radio. When the power of the medium became apparent, two-way radio operations quickly became full blown native radio stations. The CRTC "discovered" native radio in the mid-1960's and moved to bring it under existing broadcasting guidelines. The idea of community radio soon spread to the south and to the non-native population. Despite the CRTC's heavy hand in implementing the Accelerated Coverage Plan (ACP) in 1973 and later the Native Communication Program to help fund it without aboriginal input, community radio continued to thrive. There are currently over 300 native micro radio stations in Northern Canada alone. Aside form the native population, the French minority and student groups have been the biggest proponents on low power radio (Sakolsky & Dunifer, 1998).
Now Canada seeks to serve its scattered population and increasing cultural diversity through the licensing of low power FM stations (under 50 watts) and encourages socially based programming by giving priority to non-commercial and non-profit enterprises. This includes special status to stations serving native American and immigrant communities. Canadian licensing policies also encourage entrance into the spectrum with low initial costs and no excess fees until a certain level of income is reached. These costs can vary and are greater in dense urban areas. Through the existence of low power radio and certain mandated controls on content, Canada has sought to maintain a diverse and locally-sensitive radio service (CBC, 1976; CRTC, 1999).
In the U.S., diversity and localism are seen as more a function of an economically secure broadcast service provided by large wattage stations. While the FCC has relaxed certain economic requirements in licensing to encourage minority ownership, there have been no incentives or mandates from the FCC to encourage localism and diversity in radio. Admittedly, part of this is due to restrictions placed on any FCC actions by Constitutional considerations. There can be no mandated percentages of local or any other types of programming nor can there be caps on advertising. Any mandates in these areas violate free speech provisions of the Constitution as interpreted by U.S. Courts and Congress (Franklin & Anderson; 1990).
Until the repercussions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, localism was given protection in several ways. The operation of public, community, and educational radio stations, was for the most part dependent on personal contributions by individual community members and underwriting by local businesses. This is seen by public radio supporters as guaranteeing local relevant content. Further, restrictions of the number of stations that could be owned in a given area by a particular corporation or individual had been in place to ensure a variety of local programming through competition. However, the reality of financial and political pressures over the last 20 years have nullified many of these minimal protections. These include a decline in funding of public radio and its increased dependence on corporate largess for funding and an increase in the number and type of media outlets a given entity can own nationally and in particular markets (Barnouw, 1966; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
Local public radio stations increasing reliance on NPR network programming has developed into a vicious circle. NPR programming is popular, but can be expensive. It attracts a wider audience, which can raise more money. Moreover, there is an economy of scale where the more programming a station buys from NPR, the cheaper it is. Still, larger audiences are needed to pay for these programs. This causes a cycle of increasing needs for higher wattage and use of multiple translators to reach a wider audience. Further, stations need to raise more money to buy more NPR and other network programming. This creates a need to increase audience to raise more money to buy more programming and so on. Less and less of the broadcast day originates from these "local" stations. This can result in situations like what happened during the LA Rebellion in 1992. A local public radio station, rather than relying on its own proximity, ran a network feed from NPR in Washington DC. This feed originated from CNN in Atlanta. Further, much of this NPR programming has an increasing reliance on national underwriters that also support the commercial stations through advertising. This has raised some concerns among radio and free speech activists (Barnouw, 1966; Coopman, 1995; Engelman, 1996; McChesney, 1994).
Gradually over the course of the 1980s and culminating in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, restrictions in radio station ownership were relaxed and for all intents and purposes eliminated. This has had a drastic effect on local programming and has led to the domination of FM radio by a handful of major corporations. Again, the intention was to provide the benefits of the economy of scale to provide for a more financially secure radio service. The larger the station's wattage, the larger the audience reached. The larger the audience reached, the more money the station could charge for advertising. Further, centrally-produced programming became progressively cheaper as it was rebroadcast over a greater number of stations. As an example, the Howard Stern Show has a set cost to produce for Infinity Broadcasting whether it is broadcast on one station or 50 stations. The more stations that run Stern, the more Infinity can charge for national advertising spots and local advertising. Profits increase while costs decrease. While this is excellent for Infinity's bottom line, a show produced in New York and encompassing much of the morning broadcast day does little for localism other than local advertising. Incentives for local origination and lower commercial loads have evaporated as media consolidation inside markets takes away concern about competing against "the other guy." Increasingly, there is no other guy to compete against. At first decried by activists and consumers who "lost" their local stations, now even industry analysts are waking up to the "disturbing" consequences of these trends (Anderson & Moon, 1999).
Diversity has also suffered, as has localism, for the same reasons stated above. This is further aggravated by the tendency for commercial and public stations to attract specific "golden" demographics. For public radio, the listeners most likely to contribute as paying members. For commercial stations, those narrow demographics that will show up on Abritron and other rating systems and are sellable to advertisers. Often these groups encompass a narrow age and economic range of consumers. This often leaves many minorities, sub-cultures, and other financially unattractive segments of the population under-served.
Qualifying for Access
Access to frequencies is increasing in Canada while decreasing in the U.S.. Canada is exploring very low power FM (VLPFM) as a way to increase access and has always provided a low entry level cost to perspective stations (CRTC, 1995). In the U.S., speculation on broadcast licenses has increased the already substantial cost of starting or buying a radio station. With the increased wattage and financial resources requirements, the minimum entry level for starting an FM station is often in excess of $100,000. In dense markets, the cost of buying a full power FM station can run into the tens of millions of dollars. Legal and engineering fees as well as regulations requiring competitive bidding often lead to frequencies being "poached" by organizations and corporations with greater financial resources. Application processes can take years and frequency separation requirements combined with the high wattage of many stations can make available frequencies scarce. These costs make entrance into radio in the U.S. available to a very few wealthy individuals or organizations (CDC, 1995).
The Public Interest
With the introduction of the NPRM on low power radio, the debate is opening again on which services best suit the public interest. In Canada, where media consolidation has also had an effect, the idea of serving minority or niche groups with affordable low power radio has a long history. It is the Canadian view that the best way to serve the public is with a combination of services, including mixes of large public and commercial radio stations and a low power service that is capable or serving smaller segments of society. These small stations provide access to the public and promote localism through the virtue of their size and their local control. While a financially strong high power radio service is seen as an important aspect of serving the public interest, it is recognized as not being able to serve all the needs of smaller communities. A muti-tiered approach allows full public access for broadcasters and listeners to a public property, the spectrum.
In the U.S., the public interest, according to the FCC, NAB, and NPR, was thought to be served by a thriving commercial radio system based on advertising and made profitable by economies of scale. Based on the profit motive, it was reasoned that these networks would be free of propaganda and undue government influence. This was seen as a flaw of Canadian and European broadcasting systems. The public would decide, by making choices as to what to listen to, which stations survived and which ones failed. Therefore, the best interests of the broadcasters would be the same as those of the public. In actuality, this marketplace for ideas became a jungle. Rather than seeking audiences through the production of interesting content, the broadcasters sought to avoid offending potential audiences through eliminating controversial programming. Instead of a choice of many alternatives, there was merely a choice of the few profitable alternatives provided by a decreasing number of media owners. Because these stations relied on advertising dollars, not offending advertisers became of prime importance. Moreover, as media companies expanded to encompass non-media properties and non-media companies acquired media outlets, the needs and motivations of these owners became convoluted. Since there were few choices for listeners, the needs of the public took a back seat to corporate profits and the need of these companies to maximize assets while decreasing costs (Bagdikian, 1997; McChesney, 1994).
As a business, radio cannot be blamed for taking steps to increase profits with in the regulatory framework and to try and affect regulatory changes in their favor. These companies ultimately have a responsibility to their stockholders to operate in a manner that maximizes profits. However, without an alternative and unable to access the airwaves, the public interest has become increasing the "public dis-interest-ed" in radio faire. This was seen in the drop in FM revenues in the 1980s. The consolidation in public radio, its professionalization, and increasing reliance on NPR programming and large corporate donors as well as perceived cultural and political biases, fueled dissatisfaction in this service as well. Alternatives were needed but the regulatory structure prevented them from manifesting, or rather manifesting legally.
While the argument expressed by the NAB and NPR is that low power FM in the U.S. will degrade the signal quality of the spectrum and the financial health of FM radio, this has not been the case in Canada. Granted, the spectrum in Canada is not as crowded as it is in the U.S.. However, similar station densities do exist in the major Canadian metropolitan areas. The existence of low power FM has not degraded the Canadian spectrum or visibly taken from the full power CBC or private stations. Even if Canada is not seen as a good example of LPFM in action, the situation in the U.S. concerning the increase in unlicensed LPFM belies a problem with the current U.S. radio service.
The huge increase in unlicensed FM activity in the U.S. over the past five years and the explosion of interest in low power radio would not be occurring if the current FM radio service were meeting the needs of the general public. Thirteen thousand groups and individuals requested information on starting low power FM stations from the FCC in 1998. There are an estimated 1000 low power FM stations on the air in the U.S. as of February 1999. Despite the FCC shutting down over 200 stations last year, more go on the air every day. Activists, church groups, entrepreneurs, and concerned citizens risk fines and prosecution by operating micro radio stations. Many are shocked when they find what they are doing is actually illegal and appalled when they find out what they have to do to get a radio license under the current system. Despite protests to the contrary, LPFM will not degrade signal quality and cause inference. Regardless of the fact that many of these stations operate with kit-assembled equipment, little or no technical support, and on "squatted" frequencies, incidents of interference have been few. Further, with all the concern over interference with aviation frequencies, my examination of FAA records indicated that licensed full power stations and other broadcast services account for much more interference than low power stations (Biolatta-Dailey & Siska, 1999). For the most part, LPFM stations do not have the wattage to cause problems with full power operations. Even unregulated, these LPFM stations have an interference track record on par with full power stations. The fear of interference with other licensed stations has also been raised by the NAB. Their argument is a Canadian-style system would not work because of the comparatively larger number of radio stations in the US. What the NAB does not take into account is that many American radio stations can be heard in Canada, especially in the south. This makes the spectrum as crowded north or the boarder as south, yet there are no interference problems (Sakolky & Duifer, 1998).
Although not sanctioned, the U.S. has a low power FM service, and it is up to the FCC to realize this and make room for it. The NPRM on Low Power is a good start, but fails to address many of the issues that caused the emergence of LPFM in the first place. The FCC would be wise to listen to the needs of this service if they hope to successfully regulate it. The cooperation of the civil disobedience stations will be essential in making any LPFM service a success.
It is evident that the historical forces in play during the development of radio in North America shaped the polices that govern the airwaves there. Canada and the United States are distinct nations with their own agendas and cultures. However, when comparing the regulatory stances taken by each nation concerning LPFM, it is easy to see why the U.S. falls short in this area. Chris Wright, Special Counsel for the FCC, said to me "a license is the right to exclude others" (Briefing for members of the American Communication Association, FCC Headquarters, Washington DC, October 25, 1997) U.S. radio policy has been based on this exclusion, while Canadian policy is based on inclusion. Democracy and the public interest cannot be served by allowing 5% of the population to control electronic discourse with little or no input from the other 95%. While it is true that everybody cannot have their own radio station (as the argument went in 1934), there is no justification in a few corporations controlling all radio stations. Moreover, the regulatory system itself has been designed by the few to maintain control over the airwaves. Communication is a basic human right. It would appear many U.S. citizens are becoming tired of their listening options and seek to a voice of their own in radio.
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