By Michele Combs and Timothy Karr. Originally published at The Hill
As he prepares to take on the role of House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has pledged to bring a new era of bipartisanship to Congress. "I think the best leaders are very good listeners," said Boehner in October. "Because if you are not listening, you cannot lead."
President Obama responded in kind: "Let's go ahead and start making some progress on the things that we do agree on," he said, "And we can continue to have a strong and healthy debate about those areas where we don't."
Here’s their best chance to listen and lead together: Republicans, Democrats and nearly every one across the political spectrum agree that opening our radio dial to more local voices is good for the country.
That’s why 86 Republicans and Democrats joined together to sponsor the Local Community Radio Act in the House, where it sailed through on a voice vote. And it’s why Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) joined with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) to introduce the act in the Senate.
Groups as different as Free Press and the Christian Coalition agree that passing the Local Community Radio Act should be a no-brainer. It would free up unused radio spectrum for hundreds and possibly thousands of new local stations. Known as Low Power FM (LPFM), these stations operate at 100 watts or less and broadcast just a few miles into local communities. They’re typically run by colleges, churches, schools and nonprofits to provide local information and perspectives not available elsewhere on the dial.
From saving lives during Hurricane Katrina to broadcasting local church services to homebound community members, these stations have more than demonstrated their importance to communities nationwide. Without them, so many of our small cities, towns and rural areas would not have a voice on the radio at all.
So what’s the problem? Last month, one senator, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), quietly placed a hold on the bill. Sen. Barrasso cited concerns that were similar to those raised by the National Association of Broadcasters, a powerful lobby that represents the interest of commercial broadcasters. But the NAB’s objections are based on misplaced notions of signal interference that were debunked long ago following an exhaustive study of LPFM broadcasting.
Barrasso’s own constituents stand to benefit greatly from the legislation; opening the radio spectrum over Wyoming would create airspace for dozens of new stations from Cheyenne to Cody. The same is true in every other state with significant rural populations.
We can’t allow the obstinacy of a few to get in the way of legislation that promises to benefit so many.
The Local Community Radio Act has only an upside. Passing it would be a meaningful step toward bipartisanship at a time when our nation desperately needs to go beyond politics as usual to a place where we can all work together.
-- Michele Combs is the vice president of communications for the Christian Coalition of America. Timothy Karr is the campaign director for Free Press the national media reform group.