Last week the FCC promulgated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow for more media consolidation. Among many changes contemplated, the most significant would actively encourage the merger of print and broadcast media companies. The proposal also leaves the door open to loosening restrictions on the number of radio and television stations a single company can own in any given market.
- By John Anderson
- in Community Radio, FCC, FM Radio, LPFM, Media Policy, Microradio, NAB, Pirate Radio
- 1 Comment
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.
Though Clear Channel may possibly be shopping itself around, the Mays family that runs the company sits quite pretty. Should the company be sold and Lowry and his two boys be asked to leave, their golden parachutes call for tens of millions of dollars in stock and cash payments each: even the taxes on that income will be paid for by the company.
There is some evidence that Clear Channel has begun quietly selling off selected properties, specifically involving “support businesses” and clusters of radio stations in smaller markets. This would make sense as the company cleans up its books to position itself in the best light for potential suitors to either take it private or buy it up to sell off piecemeal.
As if last week’s bombshell did not do enough to tarnish the legitimacy of the FCC, now comes word that a second media ownership study did not see the light of day back during the agency’s last go-round on the subject.
The funny thing is, this newly-unearthed report – “Review of the Radio Industry” – doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know, which is how consolidation has decimated radio since the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. When regulators find themselves threatened to the point where they go out of their way to cover up the obvious, you know things are f*cked up to an insane degree.
During the FCC’s mostly-failed media ownership revision-quest of 2003, the agency cooked up a bunch of “research” to justify trying to let big media grow even bigger. However, one report with real integrity never made it out the door.
The agency’s Media Bureau studied local television news coverage, and tallied up the amount of actual local news stations produced, and correlated that to station ownership. It turns out that locally-owned stations produce as much as 33 hours more local news per year than stations owned by chains or networks. The study also concluded that cross-ownership – the ownership of a TV station and/or newspaper and/or radio by one company in a single market – did nothing to enhance a TV station’s local news coverage. In fact, cross-owned properties more often than not produce less local news.