This is the work of Michelle Bradley, the proprietor of REC Networks – arguably one of the most gifted FCC broadcast data-analysts in the country. REC’s been engaged with LPFM since its inception 15 years ago, and has tendered a petition for rulemaking to create an upgraded LP-250 station-class.
The premise is simple: 100 watts maximum power at just 100 feet above the ground doesn’t make for much of an FM signal. Many LPFM stations are difficult to receive indoors. REC starts off the petition with a litany of LPFM reception horror-stories (my favorite being the retirement facility in North Carolina where the local LPFM station can be heard on one side of the campus, but not the other). These vividly illustrate how LPFM’s current power/height restrictions work against stations being able to build viable and sustainable listenership and fiscal sponsorship.
REC’s proposed solution is also straightforward: allow existing LPFM stations to “upgrade” to a new 250-watt station class. REC would also like to see the FCC give stations some protection from interference from translators and provide a bit more flexibility to make minor facility-moves. But this won’t be a blanket-fix: under the FCC’s current channel-spacing regime, REC estimates that 50 to 75 percent of existing stations might qualify for a potential upgrade. Bradley/REC have launched an online tool that allows LPFM licensees to check their status under the proposal.
Crucially, the petition does not seek to remove the antenna-height restriction on LPFM stations. This is the most crippling aspect of the service, for FM signals are line-of-sight, which means more and stronger coverage with a higher broadcast platform. This is why FM translator stations running just a handful of watts but broadcast from the tops of skyscrapers sell for millions of dollars. That said, more than doubling the effective radiated power of a majority of LPFM stations will help them immensely when it comes to penetrating buildings in their primary service areas.
REC’s petition, filed in late April, was formally accepted by the FCC last Friday and it’s accepting comments through June 15th. As of today, there are 10 comments on file, nearly all of which come from listeners and volunteers of the beleagured LPFM stations cited in the petition. Mike Shannon of Bedford, Indiana currently takes the cake: “In our community, our LPFM is first with many weather alerts and important information. This increase will help our local LPFM be listened to better in buildings and in lower areas of the county in elevation….It’s time for radio to serve the public again, not just $erve the bottom line.”
I would not be surprised if commercial and public broadcasters file comments in opposition to this proposal, using re-warmed canards about the “dangers” of interference — while simultaneously they beg the FCC to open a new window for lucrative FM translator stations. The sad fact is that there will most likely never be another filing window for new LPFM stations, and REC’s proposal is far from expansionary, but this change will greatly improve the chances of existing LPFMs making it work over the long haul.