Bill may block efforts to launch new radio station

Industry worried about low-power stations' interference

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Four Juneau locals are hoping to bring a new radio station to Juneau but their efforts could be stymied by a bill currently in Congress.

Steve Tada, Dan Dawson, Greg Morgan and Tom Willis, the board of the new Gastineau Broadcasting Corp., want to construct a locally based, low-power FM station.

The new spectrum was recently opened by the Federal Communication Commission. Before new stations could be licensed, however, Republicans in Congress proposed a bill that would prohibit the FCC from authorizing the new stations.

If it passes, the proponents of the proposed low-power Juneau station aren't sure where that leaves them.

"The association of broadcasters have been lobbying Congress to basically put this bill in place," said Willis, who has been involved with public radio for 20 years. "I think it's some of the big broadcast media organizations; they're a little concerned about taking up spectrum space."

Bill Legere, general manager of KTOO, said he agrees with the industry's position, which is "one of concern over the interference issue."

"We support the national efforts by the industry groups to either legislate or convince the FCC to apply a higher standard of protection," he said. "The obligation ought to be on the low-power FM operators to guarantee that they won't interfere with existing broadcast (stations)."

Supporters of the new low-power stations argue that they will help halt a trend toward increasing consolidation of the radio industry. Willis agrees.

"There has been a move over the last several years to regionalize, to consolidate," he said. "A lot of the radio stations in these markets right now are actually controlled, either financially or owned, by organizations that are not Juneau-based."

In contrast, Gastineau Broadcasting is firmly local.

"What we're doing is creating a station that is Juneau-based," Willis said. "In our bylaws we stipulate that individuals have to live in Juneau if they're going to serve on the board of directors."

Barring complications in Congress, the new station is scheduled to begin broadcasting on Jan. 1, 2001. At the moment, Willis said, engineering studies have been completed.

"We're just waiting for a construction permit from the FCC," he said. "We have a studio location, a downtown studio location. We're on hold until we do get the construction permit."

The format of the new station is somewhat mysterious, as Willis hates to "let all the cats out of the bag."

"We do have a format that is not as eclectic as the local public radio station," he said. "Our emphasis would be on local programming, local events and local news."

Does Juneau need another radio station? Willis thinks so.

"There is a need," he said. "And a lot of it is format generated. There have been a couple new radio stations that have come on the market, and they're satellite-based radio stations. That (fact) and some individuals in the community that want to see a change in format kind of inspired us to move in this direction."

Legere agreed.

"Aside from the technical concern, we certainly welcome more broadcast stations in Juneau," he said. "There's plenty to do on the air here, plenty of needs that aren't being met."

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