The application filing window for new full-power non-commercial FM stations opened yesterday (and somehow I totally spaced on mentioning it on yesterdays radioshow). On Wednesday, just two days in advance, the FCC finally decided to set a limit on the total number of applications that will be accepted, limiting it to 10 from any one party. The Commission will only consider the first ten applications submitted by any given party (whether singularly or jointly) in the order they were received, and dismiss the rest. In this manner an applicant can’t submit twenty applications and then hope to cherry pick amongst those the FCC accepts — especially if there’s no competition for more than 10 of proposed frequencies.
In its public notice [PDF] the FCC acknowledges that most of the more than 10,000 commenters advocated the limit of 10 applications. Furthermore the Commission accepted the reasoning that allowing more than 10 applications would greatly increase the likelihood of license speculation of the type seen with non-commercial translator stations airing Christian satellite network programming.
Predictably, the only commenter urging no limit at all was EMF Broadcasting which operates a large cadre of both full-power and translator stations airing the Christian satellite networks K-Love and Air1.
Not coincidentally, since religious broadcasting was accepted into the non-commercial band in the 80s, Christian radio stations have been soaking up frequencies that might otherwise go to more inclusive community broadcasters. A big reason for this is that evangelical Christian organizations tend to be quite well organized and even more well funded than community radio organizers. I’m certain that without the 10-station limit EMF was looking forward to applying for hundreds of frequencies, organizing local religious groups and churches to fundraise in the communities of license.
The limit certainly puts some reins on such a plan, but I would be surprised if the likes of EMF and other godcasters don’t have a backup plan. My guess is that they’re doing their best to have local groups make the applications independently, but with the intent to have the stations mostly air satellite programming.
Luckily, the Prometheus Radio Project, National Federation of Community Broadcasters and other grassroots broadcasting groups have been putting in overtime to organize groups interested in applying for licenses to put up true community stations. Once next Friday comes and the dust clears from the filing window I hope we’ll see construction permits for hundreds of new full-power community stations nationwide.