According to this New York Times report, Christian broadcasting groups are threatening high school and college radio stations with petitions to the Federal Communications Commission asking that they be denied their renewal licensing.
“I thought, ‘Is this fiction?’ ” Steve George, faculty advisor to WRFT in Indianapolis recalled. “Who could do this?”
He has since learned the answer. Hoosier Public Radio is largely the enterprise of one man, Martin Hensley, a former radio engineer who now describes his occupation as “serving God.” And the effort by Mr. Hensley to take the F.C.C. license from WRFT, or at least force it to share broadcast time with him, offers but one example of a series of similar conflicts involving student radio stations. At least 20 high school stations, and a handful of college ones, have been fending off challenges to their licenses by Christian broadcasters in the last year.
This flurry of action, which seemed so inexplicable to Mr. George, actually has a fierce logic to it. A loophole in commission regulations makes educational stations unusually vulnerable to takeover attempts.
Moreover, their frequencies are a lucrative commodity, a bargain-basement way to get onto the air. The commission rarely auctions new frequencies on the crowded radio dial, and existing ones sell for $200,000 or so for a 50-watt operation like WRFT’s to more than $10 million for a major commercial station.
Thus far, the commission has not upheld any of the challenges. Which is not to say the high schools have been left unscathed. Franklin Central has already paid more than $16,000 in fees to a Washington lawyer who specializes in F.C.C. law, Kathryn Schmeltzer.
Seventeen of the stations that ultimately were granted renewals in 2004 and 2005, including WRFT, still face appeals by Hoosier Public Radio and R B Schools (another Christian crusader spreading its efforts from Colorado to Michigan).
Isn’t this a heartwarming story? Happy Thanksgiving!