Randy J. Stine January 2 2015
WASHINGTON — The low-power expansion of the FM dial will not include as many stations as some LPFM faithful had estimated. The FCC said some 2,819 applications were filed in the LPFM window, which closed in November. Some LPFM supporters had predicted upwards of 10,000 applications. The typical cost for putting a LPFM on the air — cited as $15,000 to $20,000 by some observers — could have been a deterrent. Other observers believe self-filers may have been discouraged because they felt they lacked the technical expertise needed to file an LPFM application.
Low-power FM stations, which broadcast at a maximum of 100 watts and typically reach seven to 10 mile from the antenna, must be licensed to non-profit entities; they often are operated by community groups, schools and churches. There were 3,258 low-power FM applications filed in the first window in 2000–2001, according to FCCdata. Today there are approximately 800 licensed LPFMs.
The commission has begun processing the new applications. It was expected to reject some because of errors; it then is expected to begin issuing construction permits soon after the first of the year. That would be a “lightning-fast pace for the FCC,” according to one observer.
Texas was the state with the most LPFM applications filed at 303, followed by California and Florida with 283 and 276 respectively, according to FCC data. The FCC said it has identified approximately 900 “technically acceptable” LPFM applications that don’t conflict with others. Christian Community Broadcasters co-founder John Broomall is hoping about 2,000 CPs eventually will be granted once the mutually exclusive or “MX” applications are sorted. Two or more pending applications are considered mutually exclusive if the grant of one would effectively preclude the grant of one or more of the others.
The response to the much-anticipated, month-long window surprised some proponents. “Community groups are not experts in FCC licensure, and it was not reasonable to expect a complicated process would be doable for many without accessible help,” said Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of San Francisco-based Media Alliance, a non-profit that advocates for democratic
“I am sure 10,000 groups expressed interest at some point in the window, but there is a distance between expressing interest in the possibility of a low-power station in your neighborhood and following through with an engineering study and a station plan.”
The Media Alliance assisted local community groups in finding available frequencies, many across northern California. For instance, it worked with Alameda Community Radio on its application for an LPFM to “replace what [Alameda] sees as a huge deficit in local news coverage,” Rosenberg said. Several student groups at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Reed College in Portland, Ore.,
applied for low-power FM stations with the help of Media Alliance, according to Rosenberg.
Providing an “alternative voice” to their communities is a theme often promoted by LPFM supporters. Michi Bradley, founder of community radio advocate REC Networks, said the majority of her clients are faith-based, and that the few secular organizations she helped were proposing a community radio service that is true to LPFM. REC Networks found that many potential LPFM filers feared the “whole second adjacent waiver” process.
The Local Community Radio Act, signed by President Obama in late 2010, authorized theFCC to license additional low-power FMs. In addition, it eliminated third-adjacent channel LPFM spacing requirements and allowed the commission to create standards for waiving second-adjacent protection requirements. “While REC and Prometheus tried to make it a simpler process, there were still a lot of requirements and things you needed to know,” Bradley said. Bradley also said that because the FCC used the “zero population” rule for interference instead of a “de minimus population” rule, many organizations were left out. According to REC, the new second-adjacent waiver policy allowed for a small overlap area where an LPFM station is predicted to interfere with a full-power station operating on a second-adjacent channel; however, the LPFM applicant had to show that there were no “potential listeners” within that overlap area.
Prometheus Radio Project, perhaps the most visible LPFM advocacy group, supported more than 1,000 entities interested in applying for an LPFM license, according to its website. “These groups were very diverse in nature, covering everything from local music to cultural preservation to workers’ rights,” said Sanjay Jolly, Prometheus policy director. For example, Prometheus worked with the Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia, which plans to broadcast in the interest of poor and working people. Meanwhile, the Fort Hood Support network, another Prometheus client, expects to use their station to broadcast programming on veterans’ rights, peace activism and local music in Fort Hood, Texas.
Prometheus, which builds and supports community radio stations, faulted the FCC for “doing very little outreach” to eligible organizations, Jolly said. “Countless more organizations would have loved to have applied for a radio station, but didn’t know of the opportunity.” FCC officials said that the agency created a dedicated webpage with detailed information on LPFM rules, an LPFM mailbox where potential filers could ask commission lawyers and engineers questions and an improved FM channel finder tool to search for available channels. The agency also held several webinars to help potential filers with the process, according to an FCC spokesman. Jolly also said other organizations “started the process too late” and were not familiar with “filling out obscure government forms.” But he said Prometheus was happy to see “fewer bulk-filers” in this window, which also could have contributed to the lower total.
Nexus Broadcast, a broadcast engineering consulting and equipment manufacturer, said the majority of applicants it helped were based in larger metropolitan areas; this likely was due to the relaxed criteria for second-adjacent protection waivers, according to the company. “Southern states and rural applicants were very low in comparison to the previous window,” said Nexus Broadcast founder Leo Ashcraft. “We helped large religious broadcasters through multiple branches, for example The Church of Christ, but most were single churches and local charity groups.” Ashcraft said most applicants in this window bring no prior experience with broadcasting. Broomall of Christian Community Broadcasters hopes radio professionals will step up and help their new brethren get stations launched. “We are inviting broadcasters and engineers nationally to become local mentors for these new broadcasters.” His consulting firm is helping clients with settlement agreements and developing equipmentpackages.
LPFM applicants: Read Radio World’s new in-depth eBook, including a primer for LPFM newbies, at radioworld.com/ebooks.