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The Federal Communications Commission has put the Harvard Radio Network out of business. Saturday morning WHRB was told by the FCC that if the station couldn't comply with government rules limiting radiation, it would have to go off the air immediately. So at midnight Saturday WHRB interrupted its reading period jazz orgy and said goodbye.
It is difficult to understand the FCC's procedure. Many other college stations are admittedly operating over FCC power limits, a fact which Commission engineers must certainly have noticed in a routine check of all neighboring student networks last October. Three weeks later the engineers inspected WHRB again and found the station was still radiating too much; most other stations were inspected only once. Apparently because WHRB received two checkups it was singled out for FCC action. This does not represent just and uniform government regulation.
The rule the Network broke was a radiation regulation drawn up in 1932. Violation of this regulation does not mean that a station will interfere with broadcasts of other local outlets; WHRB has been assured by Boston stations that it is not impinging on their wave-lengths, and only one, quickly-remedied complaint has been received from a listener. The radiation regulation is intended merely to confine a coaxial cable system, such as WHRB's, to the small area it serves. But even if WHRB's signals do leak outside of University property, they cannot reach enough persons to offer significant competition to licensed commercial stations.
Student engineers say that this radiation regulation is obsolete and grossly impractical. They say it may be impossible for a college station both to obey the rule and be heard. Sometime this spring student networks are to be given an FCC hearing to present this basic objection. In view of the impending hearing, the Commission's impatience to enforce its rules on WHRB seems even more surprising.
WHRB can do little before the hearing is completed. Engineers doubt that they can sufficiently cut the station's radiation; the Network has little hope of getting a temporary reprieve from the Commission's order; and a commercial license would involve an impossible capital expense. As the months drag on, the Network will lose the advertising revenues it needs to prevent physical decay.
For years the FCC has been trying to discourage monopoly in the radio industry and to encourage small community stations serving the "public interest." In shutting down WHRB and in its present restrictive regulation the Commission is actually working against its traditional objective. The Harvard Network--like other college networks--is the only radio station the community can call its own. Through the years WHRB has set for itself higher standards than those of most commercial stations. Through its educational shows and continuous music programs it has successfully met the needs and desires of the community it serves. Such a station should be nourished, not badgered, by the FCC.
Thanks to the FCC, however, WHRB will be silent for several weeks to come. The Harvard Network will suffer, the community will suffer, and nobody, it appears, will gain.
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