Christian stations move in on weak radio signals
A front page article in Sunday's New York Times depicts a battlefield in noncommercial radio. The major belligerents are National Public Radio (NPR) and Don Wildmon's American Family Radio (AFR).

"The noncommercial band is getting very, very crowded, and there just is not a lot of room for new stations in desirable areas," a Nashville-based radio consultant told the Times. "The competition is fierce, and the Rev. Wildmon is especially hard-nosed. His people are very good at what they do."

The audience for noncommercial radio stations (especially for Christian networks) is rapidly increasing. This growth has made available frequencies a competitive field. In the first two quarters of 2002, The New York Times reports, there were only 14 noncommercial stations sold. Christian companies bought all but two.

Federal law allows for licensed full-power stations to take over weaker FM frequencies. Those who are usually kicked off the air are small-budget operations that use translators to relay the signal from faraway stations. The Times calls it "the equivalent of the varsity team kicking the freshmen out of the gym."

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, American Family Radio replaced two NPR stations on the radio dial last year. "Religious broadcasters have done this to public radio stations in Oregon and Indiana, too," writer Blaine Harden says, "and many large-market public radio stations, like WBEZ in Chicago, complain that new noncommercial stations, most of them religious, are stepping on the signal at the edge of their transmission areas."

American Family Radio owns 194 stations and 18 affiliates. It has pending FCC applications for more licenses numbering in the hundreds. The process of ...

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