In the waning years of Clinton, the Federal Communications Commission created a new class of radio stations dubbed LPFMs. Because these broadcast with less power than other outlets, more of them can be fit on the FM dial, thus allowing more variety on the air. Far from a radical change, the plan was much more conservative than it could have been, and it was rendered more restrictive still when Congress, responding to pressure from the established broadcast industry, imposed some severe modifications. Among other things, its legislation ensured that the new stations would only be established in very rural areas, leaving urban radio out of the equation altogether.
But there was a catch. The law didn't kill the original plan outright. It required the FCC to do field tests to see how much signal interference the more extensive proposal would cause, a task the commission assigned to a nonproft called the MITRE Corporation. The report is now out, and it won't make the big broadcasters happy. According to MITRE, the government's "third channel adjacency" requirement—in essence, a rule demanding enormous buffers between stations to prevent them from interfering with each other—is not necessary.
If the study is taken seriously, it should open the door to a lot of new low-power radio stations, not just in the countryside but in the cities. The political moment for such a change may be ripe, given how many people in Congress are professing their discontent with media consolidation—a stance that, if sincere, should lead those politicians to support new sources of competition on the dial. Their response to this report will be a test of that sincerity.
(To see the study, go here. MITRE's monster-sized report is currently the first item on the screen. It's broken into seven different .pdf files.)