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The lowdown on radio: A surge of low-power FM stations on the way

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A flurry of new radio stations are headed to Minnesota and Wisconsin. But you may need to stay put to hear them.

The La Crosse Tribune reports low-power FM stations are getting licensed by the Federal Communications Commission for the first time in more than a decade. The number of 100-watt stations – with signals that reach only a few miles – currently stands at 34 in Minnesota and Wisconsin but will more than double once newly licensed groups hit the airwaves.

When the Low Power Community Radio Act was passed by Congress in 2000, the FCC issued a batch of licenses to non-profit groups. A new round of licensing was opened last year and the Tribune says regulators received more than 3,000 applications in a month last fall.

The FCC has a page offering details about low-power FM radio and the process of applying for a license.

The Tribune says in the current round of licensing 36 new stations have been approved in Minnesota and Wisconsin and another 47 applications are pending. The newspaper provides an interactive map of low-power stations in Minnesota.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is an example of the newly licensed non-profits. A La Crosse group called the Warehouse Alliance, which grew out of an all-ages music venue, has an application pending, the Tribune says.

The Prometheus Radio Project is an advocacy group for participatory radio. An official with the group tells the Tribune low-power radio is an antidote to commercial media.

On their website Prometheus says the future of community radio will integrate broadcast and digital technologies. "With a cell phone and laptop, the whole community becomes a mobile studio," the group writes.

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