Congress Tries Intimidating FCC to Drop Information Needs Study

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was preparing to conduct a test of its protocol for a "multi-market study on critical information needs" in Columbia, South Carolina. The study proposal suggests a two-pronged approach: the first is a "media market census" which will look at broadcast, newspaper, and online news content in sample markets around the country. The second prong is a "community ecology study" in which surveys will be conducted to "measure community members’ actual and perceived critical information needs." This will be coupled with "in-depth neighborhood interviews" involving actual citizens.

With studies like these, the devil is in the details. There’s no clear definition of what "critical information needs" actually are, and while the proposal plans to focus on these needs from the perspective of "vulnerable/disadvantaged populations," these are also not clearly defined. Sample-size is also key: this particular study will look at six media markets—two large, two medium, and two small—and we still don’t know what other five markets will be involved. Read More

Beware Broadcasters’ Post-Sandy Opportunism

One month ago today, those of us in NYC and the surrounding area were hunkering down and riding out a storm named Sandy. As conditions worsened and disruptions in communications technologies multiplied, people did something they don’t often do en masse anymore: they turned to radio to find out what was going on.

A few radio stations did provide an informational and emotional lifeline, demonstrating that the medium still has an important role to play in our modern media environment. The ubiquity of broadcasting, coupled with the ease of access to it (no device necessary save for a cheap receiver, no contracts, no terms of service) made radio the go-to medium after almost everything else stopped working. Read More

Broadcasters Begin Push for Radio Chips in Phones

On June 6, the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on “The Future of Audio” – an open-ended, quasi exploratory affair covering several subjects. Of note was the testimony of Jeff Smulyan, the President and CEO of Emmis Communications.

Emmis, in conjunction with iBiquity Digital Corporation and Intel, unveiled a prototype smartphone with FM-HD reception capability at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention in April. The NAB itself has publicly acknowledged that getting FM reception into phones is its number one legislative priority this year. Read More

LPFM’s Second Wave

Congratulations to everyone who worked tirelessly – both over the last 10 years and the last two weeks – to convince Congress to finally approve the Local Community Radio Act. Given the recent changes in the political winds of D.C., this was most likely the very last chance to fundamentally expand the LPFM radio service.

Things literally came down to the wire: after locking the bill in stasis for months with secret holds from industry-friendly Senators, last-minute negotiations between LPFM proponents and the National Association of Broadcasters, combined with a multi-faceted grassroots lobbying blitz, ended up in a hasty rewrite of the actual legislation, which the House quickly approved on Friday and the Senate blessed on Saturday. President Obama’s signature is a given. 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