Low Power to the People

A South Carolina city is the latest battleground for low-watt community radio

5 min read

On Sunday evening, 10 June, WMXP-LP/95.5 FM, in Greenville, S.C., signed on the air for the first time. The event marked the end of a seven-year battle to provide an alternative to the city's large commercial stations for the African-American community, which makes up one-third of greater Greenville's 300 000 population. WMXP is a community radio station owned and operated by the local chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement for Self-Determination, situated in the heart of a long-depressed but rebounding black community that abuts Greenville Downtown Airport [see photo, "Against All Odds"]. The fight to get WMXP on the air exemplifies a growing movement that has pitted community activists, public interest lawyers, and electrical engineers against the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobbying organization in Washington, D.C., that represents commercial radio stations in the United States. NAB members fear that their listenership--and their advertising revenues--would suffer from the presence of alternative programming.

The Greenville radio station is a new beachhead in a conflict over whether political, ethnic, and religious groups, as well as neighborhoods and school authorities, may operate low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations, which--by dint of their small broadcast ranges--are necessarily focused on local interests. Starting in the late 1980s, activists and advocates created pirate LPFM stations and went to court, challenging radio rules. The aim was to change regulations that effectively shut out community organizations from the broadcast spectrum in favor of corporate media. The result was the Federal Communications Commission's 2000 decision to create LPFM licenses for community radio stations.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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