Killing the Human Element

Clear Channel-owned radio stations in small to medium-sized markets were decimated last week as the company laid off dozensif not hundreds – of on-air talent. This means that, at some Clear Channel station-clusters, there is literally no local presence on the airwaves anymore.

Clear Channel says it’ll take remaining talent and syndicate their shows across markets, using “custom breaks” and “localized content” to provide a patina of localism on affected stations – a practice otherwise known as voice tracking. The company has also appointed two dozen “Brand Managers” to oversee 11 national station formats. Read More

“Heroic” Localism

The New York Times recently ran a canonizing profile on the afternoon-drive DJ at WRIP-FM, a locally-owned Top 40-format commercial radio station in Windham, New York. He conducted a 13-hour broadcast marathon during the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene last month, taking phone calls and disseminating emergency information the old fashioned way – listener by listener.

The Times piece is but the latest in a long string of articles that have justifiably recognized the outstanding local service broadcasters have provided in the wake of this year’s natural disasters. Read More

U.K. to Refarm FM?

This appears to be a first: British broadcast regulator Ofcom is floating the idea of using FM radio spectrum to provide wireless broadband access in rural areas.

The United Kingdom is nearly 20 years into an attempted digital radio transition. It (and much of the rest of the developed world) has adopted a digital broadcast technology that uses spectrum outside the AM and FM bands. However, the development of digital radio is as stalled (or worse) in the U.K. at it is in the United States. Read More

Radio Station License Renewals Ahoy

This spring sees the beginning of the FCC’s license-renewal cycle for radio stations. Stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia must begin running license-renewal announcements next month, and file their formal paperwork to renew station licenses by June. (Other states will follow in batches through the next three years – find out the license-renewal deadlines for radio stations in your state in this FCC document.).

Although the license-renewal process has long been pretty much a pro forma exercise, it does provide an opportunity for the listening public to examine and critique the performance of their local radio stations. Read More

The History of LPFM

What is LPFM?

LPFM stands for Low Power FM radio broadcasting. In the United States, the lowest minimum wattage a licensed FM radio station may have is 100 watts. There are lower-power FM transmitters in use, though, by some stations who want to increase their coverage area by extending their signal. These are called translators or boosters.

While these may only have a wattage measured in a range from dozens to hundreds, they are not true broadcast stations by the FCC’s definitions – they do not originate their own programming. They rely on a “parent” station to provide what they air.

Ham (amateur) radio uses a similar system called a repeater; people don’t broadcast from it. They shoot a signal into it, and then it gets re-broadcast to an area larger than what ham operators might reach with their own gear. In a nutshell, translators and boosters are the repeaters of FM radio.

LPFM is the common term used to define an FM broadcast station that originates its own programming but has the power of a translator or booster. Under current FCC rules, operating such a station is simply not allowed. You may also see LPFM referred to by other terms – like “LPRS,” “microradio,” and “mini-FM,” but they all mean the same thing. Read More