A bill now before Congress, and considered by some low-power radio advocates
to have a good chance of passage this year, would potentially double the
number of licensed, low-power stations from about 800 now to perhaps 1,600
At the same time, technology is shifting the boundaries and definitions of
what it means to be local, and even what it means to be radio. Internet
streaming and digital wireless reception are combining in ways that could
allow almost any station, even one broadcast from a front porch, to be heard
anywhere in the world from the next generation of hand-held devices and
A kind of "aha" moment on that front arrived for Mr. Johnston earlier this
year when a surgeon in Jacksonville, Fla., who listens to KXZI in his
operating room via the Internet, signed up to become a financial sponsor.
Mr. Johnston has been streaming live since 2004, shortly after his station
went on the air.
"My nurses know to have it going when I come in," said Dr. Steve Felger, who
said he likes the station's quirky musical mix — bluegrass, jazz, folk and
blues — and the feel of rural Montana that he has come to love through his
And the low-power noncommercial stations that have emerged in the last
decade are nothing if not local. One station in St. Paul broadcasts to
community <http://www.hmongradio.tv/>. A station in Woodburn, Ore., focuses
on the interests of farm workers <http://www.pcun.org/kpcn-radio>.
Many stations have a religious bent. Mr. Johnston's station is in fact
licensed to his church — federal licensing required a nonprofit organization
to sign on — but the congregation's leaders do not insist on any religious
programming and have given him carte blanche to play the music he loves, he
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