Zoning the Airwaves:
Why the Radio Spectrum Matters for Planners, Markets, and Communities

This study examines the claim that Low Power FM (LPFM) community broadcasting performs unique functions related to civic infrastructure and disaster management that cannot be served by other technologies. A mixed-methods approach is used to evaluate the benefits of local broadcasting as a community resource with qualities of a public good. Three case studies reveal well-developed though locally distinct definitions of “community service” ranging from labor organizing through community development to disaster management, and serve as examples of the strategic spatial and technological properties of FM broadcasting. Planners can use a variety of approaches (policy tools, incentive structures, funding mechanisms, coalition-building) to establish and regulate media commons in the public interest. These are discussed and evaluated with respect to spectrum management, local radio broadcasting service, and the window for new licensure that will emerge in 2012 following the implementation of the Local Community Radio Act, which will open urban radio markets to LPFM for the first time.