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Jenny Toomey, Rocking the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission is beginning town hall meetings across the United States to give people a chance to discuss how well the media serves their community's public interest.

One of the FCC's most vocal critics has been known to introduce herself at public hearings this way: "My name is Jenny Toomey and I'm a rocker."

But as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, Toomey is also executive director of the four-year-old Future of Music Coalition, a Washington, D.C., think tank advocating more local access to radio stations -- especially for independent musicians.

Toomey, a Georgetown University grad with a philosophy degree, was a fixture of D.C.'s punk rock and riot grrl scene. Her band Tsunami gained some national attention in the 1990s. But when she sought a deal with a national label, she became frustrated with the workings of the music industry.

So Toomey and her friend Kristen Thompson made their own label -- Simple Machines -- and encouraged other bands to do things for themselves and manage their own businesses. They even wrote a how-to booklet.

Now Toomey organizes conferences that bring together music industry sectors that usually don't interact much: FCC commissioners, professors and recording industry honchos.

Ian MacKaye, of the band Fugazi, says Toomey "desires to humanize what has turned into a largely inhuman industry."

Toomey's last album was released over a year ago and she still hasn't had time to promote it. For now, she says, it's more important to speak out on behalf of her fellow musicians than to sing her own songs.

"There's not a lot of people who've had this many years of experience being both a musician and an activist," she says. "And we really need musician activists right now."

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.