250-Watt LPFM “Upgrade” Petition Filed

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. Read More

FCC Mulls Fine Print of LPFM

Reply comments in the FCC’s ongoing rulemaking to expand the LPFM service are due on September 27. REC Networks‘ Michi Eyre has written an excellent (and wonky!) summary of comments filed in the proceeding to date by those who have focused on the elephant in the room – the troubled relationship between LPFM and FM translator stations.

Over the last twenty years, the use of FM translators has evolved dramatically. Once a secondary service, such stations are now being deployed as stand-alone outlets around the country. Following the creation of the LPFM service, broadcasters made a run on spectrum for FM translators which has resulted in seven translators going on the air for every one LPFM station over the last decade.

The FCC is now attempting to “level the playing field” so that the explosive growth of translators does not suffocate any LPFM expansion. Read More

FM Translator Speculators Become Millionaires

It’s a sickening benchmark to behold, and yet it represents only a fraction of an overall speculation and trafficking marketplace in-progress for FM spectrum ostensibly for noncommercial use.

Here is where our story left off last: Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting (which are actually one and the same) filed more than 4,000 FM translator construction permit applications during a 2003 FCC filing window for new FM translator stations. In less than two years RAM/EB booked more than $800,000 in revenue by selling batches of translator construction permits to evangelistic mega-churches in the South and West (although a host of smaller transactions also took place).

These churches, in effect, bought permission to build state-wide or regional networks through speculators who snapped up the permits en masse, just for this very purpose. Read More

Low Power AM Petition for Rulemaking Accepted at FCC

RM-11287 is a multi-party petition that calls for the opening of the AM band to small broadcasters. Two of the five parties involved also filed the original petition for rulemaking that led to LPFM’s conception.

This has been a long time coming: citizen interest in LPAM has percolated since the 1990s, and there’s been open discussion of the idea since at least 2002. In 2003 a respected broadcast engineer submitted a proposal to the FCC which called for the creation of 30 and 100-watt “neighborhood radio” AM stations with 1-5 mile broadcast ranges. The FCC never formally acknowledged receipt of this document. In 2004 efforts were made to revive the proposal, to no avail. Building on these previous efforts with copious field experimentation led to the petition the FCC finally accepted.

RM-11287 attempts to differentiate LPAM from LPFM in several respects. The most significant is its commercial nature: LPAM seeks to “fill the current gap between small stations and megacorporations…where mid-sized businesses used to be” in the broadcast industry. Petitioners contend that while LPFM addresses a “community coverage gap” opened by the consolidation of radio since 1996, “[t]here remains, in radio and in other mass media industries, a separate, but similarly dangerous, ‘small business gap'” which “harms the nation by hindering economic growth and also by limiting the free flow of information and ideas.” It is proposed that one entity may own up to 12 LPAM stations nationally, although no more than one in any given market.

Multiple options are presented for the technical requirements of an LPAM service, with power levels ranging from 1 to 250 watts. All are geared toward keeping administration of the service simple. It is believed that under such conditions LPAM stations may provide opportunities for access to the airwaves that LPFM simply cannot: for example, according to cited analysis from REC Networks, metropolitan Detroit is currently off-limits to LPFM, but as many as four possible LPAM frequencies exist in the city.

Some components of the petition, like asking the FCC to make licensing decisions between competing applicants based on their proposed broadcast content, will simply not fly. And given that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to auction off all commercial broadcast licenses, implementation of the proposal as written would require the blessing of Congress. But the fact that the FCC is at least open to a rudimentary level of discussion about LPAM is encouraging. Comments on RM-11287 are due in mid-November (on or around November 20).