Originally created 12/01/99

Area stations get boost from law



Two area low-power TV stations have a new lease on life thanks to the legislation signed by President Clinton this week.

WBM-TV (Channel 36) and WBEK-TV (Channel 67) were in danger of being swallowed by larger stations because of a glitch in the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which forced the larger stations to find additional frequencies.

The 1996 act requires the television industry to convert to brighter, clearer digital signals by 2006.

Broadcasters, however, must send both the old analog signal and the new digital one until the industry catches up, meaning twice as many frequencies are needed.

And the easiest way for the Federal Communications Commission to find additional frequencies is to shut down low-power stations.

Dorothy Spaulding, co-manager of Christian family-programming WBM-TV (Channel 36), said her station worked a long time with U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., on changing the law.

"It is wonderful news for us. We knew this was going to happen. God did not call us here to have (Channel 36) taken away," she said.

Jeremy Coughlan, manager of WBEK-TV (Channel 67), said Mr. Norwood "fought very hard for it. It is a big victory for the community."

The Community Broadcasting Protection Act, signed Monday, created a new class of TV license for low-power -- Class A, said John Stone, Washington spokesman for Mr. Norwood.

The new legislation covers low-power stations that broadcast at least 18 hours a day and produce at least three hours of local programming a week.

Some low-power stations, though restricted to a 20-mile radius, carry network affiliates and provide local programming. Viewers cannot distinguish them from larger broadcasters, Mr. Stone said.

Such stations represent about 10 percent of the 2,000 low-power stations in the United States.

The remainder operate part-time or exist only as construction permits in somebody's desk drawer -- if any had to be killed off, it made sense to sacrifice them, said Mr. Stone.

Channels 36 and 67 will get new, permanent frequencies. The per manent status will open up investment capital.

"All of these smaller stations have been blocked from investment capital. By creating this Class A-service, they are permanent and can seek operating capital," Mr. Stone said.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336.