Congress should support Heinrich's Local Radio Freedom Act - Albuquerque Journal

Congress should support Heinrich’s Local Radio Freedom Act

New Mexico’s U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, in conjunction with Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, recently reintroduced the Local Radio Freedom Act, “a resolution declaring that Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty or other charges” on local radio stations for broadcasting music free of charge to listeners.

Heinrich said he is proud to “continue fighting to keep radio alive” because “in some parts of New Mexico – especially rural areas -local radio remains the beating heart for communities to access local and national news, emergency alerts, educational programs, and more.” He is right, and it is needed in the state now more than ever.

In March 2020, New Mexico began using the Emergency Alert System, an informational hub that connects with residents through radio, TV and text messages to provide COVID-related updates. However, over a quarter of New Mexicans do not have broadband connections and, in some cases, local radio is the only way they can receive these critical alerts.

If Congress adds new fees on local broadcasters, some New Mexicans may lose the one and only mechanism they have to hear important announcements from the state and federal governments.

Many of these stations are already struggling to stay afloat. Take Madrid-based KMRD. The Albuquerque Journal reported that not only was the station built entirely by volunteers, but also “a local electronics expert put together the soundboard from a kit, and a blacksmith in the community built the 26-foot mast to hold the antenna that beams the signal from a hilltop outside. All the DJs are volunteers, too; yet, the station still has significant bills to pay and has resorted to launching online campaigns to raise the funds it needs.”

Plenty of other New Mexico stations are in the same boat. For example, Byron Powdrell says his station, Albuquerque-based KMGG, relies on underwriting – thanking companies on air for sponsorships – to stay afloat and that, “basically, (he works) two jobs just to keep this thing on air.”

In many cases, these local broadcast stations are one of the only outlets that given causes, sects and interest groups within the state have. Forcing them off the air would effectively cause many in the state to lose their voices, representation, and even their sense of belonging.

Powdrell created his station in part because the Albuquerque metro area did not have any other Black urban programming media option. In that same vein, the Las Placitas Association, a nonprofit that “works to protect our open spaces, wildlife, watersheds, and the unique environmental and cultural richness of this area for today and future generations,” licenses another local station, Placitas-based KUPR, to bring awareness to conservation issues.

Joan Fennicle, one of the nonprofit’s board members said, “We’re supposed to do outreach to the greater community and this seemed like a great way to do that. A way to open doors.” Congress needs to keep these doors open by supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act and refraining from adding new fees on these critical stations.

New Mexicans who rely on local radio for free entertainment, news, weather and, in bad times, critical emergency information, appreciate Heinrich for yet again introducing this important resolution. New Mexico’s other senator, Ben Ray Luján, has previously supported the Local Radio Freedom Act and has long supported the state’s local radio stations. As chairman of the powerful Subcommittee on Communications and Broadband, Luján’s support for the Local Radio Freedom Act would carry added weight in ensuring New Mexico’s radio stations are not levied with new and burdensome fees.

This is the 21st century. No one in this state should ever feel in the dark about what is going on in their communities. With their congressional delegation’s help, they will not have any reason to feel this way.

Supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act will ensure all New Mexicans have access not just to free entertainment, but also to critical news and information.

Save New Mexico is an independent committee dedicated to improving New Mexico now and for future generations.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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