Signal to Noise: RPM Strikes Back

I HAVE BEEN known to be wrong. On occasion. Okay, sometimes for extended occasions. Take 1996, for instance--I was wrong at least 11 full months of that one. But I was young then. (Okay, younger.) And since then I've learned to shrug humbly and admit my inevitable errors. But not when I'm right, dammit. When I get called out irresponsibly and/or incorrectly, then do I gnash my teeth and taste hot blood. (Okay, that may admittedly just be my gingivitis acting up--I'm not young anymore--but I'm still, you know, really mad.)

Which brings us to Robb Daly, who last week wrote in to take issue with my recent remarks on Sen. Rod Grams's attempt to limit the FCC's Low-Power FM proposal. To recap, I noted that while former opponents of LPFM were continuing to suggest that new low-power stations would interfere with the signals of extant stations, that fear had already been discounted by the FCC. (Don't take my word for it--their office of engineering and technology has released a report on the issue: www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Mass_Media/Factsheets/lpfmfact032900.html)

Daly vaguely insists that the FCC was "pressured" into changing its standards, as if any supporter of LPFM could amass the political or financial pressure of the conglomerate-sponsored National Association of Broadcasters and its cronies. "The issue of interference, however, is a bit more complicated," Daly continues, "a fact that Harris obviously did not research sufficiently." Ah, yes, the "complicated issue." But how complicated is this? Opponents of LPFM are unhappy with the results of the FCC's study, which discovered that all of the 21 radios tested--including boom boxes and car stereos--could handle new neighboring frequencies with less than 1 percent distortion. (It's worth noting that the radio industry hasn't been rushing to give back their licenses on the 400 full-power "short-spaced" commercial stations, authorized prior to 1964, which operate without significant interference.) Now those opponents complain that the FCC didn't test every receiver manufactured, and so now they insist the FCC isn't competent to make exactly the sort of judgments that Congress authorizes it to make. Meaning the issue should be handed over to a new commission, as proposed by Grams's Senate bill.

But to address Robb's complications: First, there is the possibility a low-power station will interfere with a larger signal--if that larger signal happens to extend outside its authorized FCC range. The "capture ratio" he refers to only applies to two or more sources on the exact same frequency. Some current stations might not enjoy the long-range transmission they currently do, but they'll be heard quite well within their licensed area. As for the drop-in stations he claims have caused such trouble, the three local examples (a Forest Lake religious broadcaster at 95.9 and Zone stations 105.1 and 105.7) have created no reported interference with existing stations since their creation.

Robb Daly concludes that he's fine with LPFM, adding the condition "as long as my tax dollars won't be used to pay for my neighbor's transmitter, and as long as his station doesn't interfere with the other stations I want to hear." Well, if that's all you're worried about, chill. The interference problem has been addressed, and no one has ever remotely suggested funding LPFM transmitters. So we're in agreement, then. Thanks for writing, Robb. Maybe I should start silkscreening RPM T-shirts for helpful readers like you.

At least Daly finished reading my story, which is more than many of my correspondents have time to accomplish. As idealistic young'uns, we writers fantasize about sparking a discussion of the ideas we toss out into the public sphere. And what do I get? As fruitful a conversation as a dinnertime rant between a 16-year-old and her alcoholic stepdad about why she needs to take the garbage out on Thursdays. Take Justin Testerman's recent complaints regarding my review of the new De La Soul record, about my "self-conscious white-boy posturing." Self-conscious white boy that I am, what can I say? But posturing? From a guy who calls me out as "someone who never made it past A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and other college crossover artists" and then weasels out of that by adding, "Not that those artists aren't great"? I may not know "what the fuck I'm talking about," according to Testerman, but I know fronting when I read it, pal.

I believe my sentiments regarding hip-hop nostalgia were proven further at the recent First Avenue Jurassic 5 show. When I'm feeling avuncular, I tend to suspect lots of folks younger than me wish they could have seen Flash or Kurtis Blow or the Treacherous Three the way I wish I could've seen the Stones in 1965. But when I'm feeling ungenerous, the crew's need to recapture that past, which never quite existed the way they imagine it--well, it kind of reminds me of Sha Na Na (nothing to do with Sean Tillmann but with five guys who dressed up like Fonzie and sang oldies and said "duh" for "the" and were even, I swear, at Woodstock).

Now that I've got as much street cred as a "No Right Turn On Red" sign, I may as well go all out. I like both Canibus records. A lot.

Then again, I have been known to be wrong.

 
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