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Frequently Asked Questions
What is low power FM?
All over the country there are radio stations pumping out high-powered content with the power of a light bulb. Low power FM stations (LPFMs) are a forum for nonprofits, schools, churches, community centers, farmworker organizations, unions, environmentalists, and just about anyone else who wants to amplify their message.
The FCC launched the low power FM service in 2000 after grassroots pressure demanded community control of the airwaves. The service is entirely commercial-free, and licenses were only granted to nonprofit organizations. Low power FM stations can operate at a maximum power of 100 watts, which generally provides solid coverage within a 3.5-mile radius and often reach radios up to 10 miles away.
Unfortunately, as the FCC was starting to license new stations, Congress put a hault to it after a lobbying campaign by corporate broadcasters, which restricted new licensing opportunities. Ten years later, after a fight lead Prometheus and our allies, the Local Community Radio Act was signed into law in January of 2011, freeing the FCC to license new low power FM stations. In October and Novemember of 2013 over 2,800 groups applied for new low power FM licenses, and, for the first time, in major urban areas.
When can I apply for a station?
The FCC only takes applications during a licensing “window." Unfortunately the last, and possibly last, window was in October, 2013.
I missed the low power FM application deadline! What can I do now?
Unfortunately it is unlikely that the FCC will be making another opportunity to apply for low power FM licences any time soon, if ever. But you can still be involved! Check out our page on alternatives to low-power radio. You can also support and connect with folks who did apply on Radio Spark, and you can use our resources to investigate internet streaming. Finally, you can subscribe to our newsletter to get updates about the state of low power FM radio.
How many groups applied for low power FM licenses in 2013?
More than 2500 groups applied in 2013! They were a diverse bunch, encompassing community groups, universities and colleges, churches, libraries, tribal nations, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter to be informed of the release of our upcoming report featuring more details on who applied.
How many low power FM stations are currently on the air?
There are approximately 800 low-power FM stations on the air. In 2011, Prometheus conducted a survey of existing stations to find out about their programming, funding, and management. For the results of the survey check out this page.
How do find my application on the FCC website?
You can view your application on the FCC website. Just enter your facility ID and press enter.
How much does it cost to start and run a station?
Startup costs vary widely, depending on the cost of your equipment, studio space, etc. A fairly minimal start-up budget includes around $15,000 worth of equipment. Recurring expenses include rent (unless you already have a suitable space for a studio and an antenna), music licensing fees, equipment maintenance, and people power. Stations that already have space and don't have dedicated paid staff can often operate on $3,000-$10,000 per year. More on station costs.
Isn’t it risky to fundraise when I haven’t gotten a construction permit yet?
Fundraising is a good way to test out whether or not you have support in the community to fund your station building and operating. The important thing is to have a public plan for what you will do with the money if you do not get a CP. You could use it to make community media in another format, donate it to a local station or the group that gets the CP in your community, etc.
Are there any programming restrictions for an low power FM Station?
A low power FM license is a “non-commercial-educational” license, which means your station must have an educational mission. But the FCC does not evaluate the merits of this mission. Low power FM stations air a diversity of programming, including music, news, public affairs, etc. You cannot air paid advertisements, but you can engage in underwriting, which allows you to accept contributions from businesses and express gratitude for these contributions on the air.
Can I play commercials on a low power FM station?
No. However, your station can be underwritten by local businesses and individuals. Underwriting consists of receiving money or some other form of consideration in exchange for recognition in an on-air announcement.
Remember, underwriting is not the same thing as advertisements. Since the FCC’s guide to underwriting gives few specifics about making an underwriting announcement, many radio stations follow PBS’s guidelines. According to these guidelines, underwriting credit pods (the block of air-time used for underwriting) should appear at the beginning or end of a program and should not be longer than 60 seconds long, with no more than 15 seconds spent acknowledging each contributor. Contributors might include local businesses, community organizations, churches or other houses of worship, and specific families and individuals. Besides the name of the contributor, an acknowledgement may mention factual information (e.g. Bob’s Used Cars sells used cars in Central Texas) as well as an associated phone number, address, or website (preferably only one or two of these three options).
The average price for underwriting a contributor can vary significantly depending on region and the time slot of the credit pod. The LPFM station WEAK-LP 106.7 located in Athens, Ohio, for example, charges $60 a month or $660 a year (http://www.weakradio.net/underwriting.htm). The full-power non-commercial FM station KBOO in Portland, Oregon, on the other hand, charges around $27-35 per acknowledgement (http://kboo.fm/underwriting). Finally, for a sample underwriting contract visit http://www.txstate.edu/effective/upps/upps-02-04-01-att1.html.
What happens if my low power FM station breaks an FCC rule?
The short and unsatisfying answer is, it depends on what rule you break. For example, breaking obscenity laws will incur different consequences than violating regulations on wattage. Perhaps the best step you can take to keeping your station legal is to look over the FCC’s self-inspection checklist, a must-read for every radio station. Since the checklist can be hard to understand at times, we’ve also created our own guide to the checklist in plain English. Finally, take a look at our guide on liability and low-power FM stations.
I am in a mutually exclusive (MX) situation; how can I find a free channel?
Folks in MX situations as we understand it will be allowed to switch channels arbitrarily as well as do any other minor modification. We are not 100% certain when the major channel change is available -- it may not be until the tentative selectees for the respective MX group are announced in public notice. Minor modifications are available now.
I don't believe the number of points determines who must change frequency except that the high-points applicant can just sit around and wait for the eventual time that the lower-points applicants get dismissed, so it is strongly in the lower-points applicant's interest to make something happen sooner than that! If you as a lower-points applicant have a good case why the higher-points applicant should move channels instead, consider offering them assistance for doing so.
Also you can change to waiver-required channels too - you just need to do the engineering. If you need help, check out the engineering services we provide.
Can I apply for a call sign (call letters) before a construction permit is issued?
No, but you can see which one’s are available and reserve one once you are issued a construction permit.
What is the process for getting call letters?
Low power FM stations at any stage in the application process may want to start thinking about the call sign they might use. A call sign is a four-digit combination of letters and number that identifies a radio station/FCC license (e.g. WXXX-FM). Using the FCC Broadcast Call Sign Reservation and Authorization System, anybody can look up call signs to see if they are available. To do this, simply click the button called “Query”, ignoring all of the page’s confusing text. You will then be asked to submit a four-digit call sign after which a page will come up that will either indicate that the call sign is available or display the information of the station holding it. It might prove difficult to find a unique call sign as many of them are already in use. Luckily, Low power FM stations have the unique possibility to use a call sign of a full power radio or TV station if they get written permission allowing them to do so. Naturally, major stations located further rather than closer to your station will be more likely to grant permission.
Applicants that have already received a construction permit may request a call sign for their station using their FRN, the 10-digit FCC Registration Number given to any entity registering with the FCC. To request a call sign press the “Request” button. This will bring you to a page where you have the options to change, initiate, transfer, and exchange a request. Press “Initial” if you want a call sign for the first time. Next, fill in your requested call sign, construction permit number, and whether you will AM, FM, or low-power FM (called FL).
I just got my construction permit, what’s the next step?
First of all, congratulations! Now you can begin building your station and planning your station structure. For information about equipment purchases, check out this guide. By creating a station structure, we are referring to norms concerning how decisions are made. Institutions that might be incorporated into your station’s decision making processes include a board of directors, a steering committee, an advisory committee, and other working committees (e.g. fundraising committee, outreach committee). Other things to consider are your mission statement, the structure of meetings, and whether decisions will be made democratically or undemocratically. For more details on all of these aspects of organizational structure check out this page.
Is it possible to request a “minor change” to my requested channel?
Yes. If your change is considered a minor one, you can file now if you want. A minor change in frequency is one that +/- 3 channels up or down or to a channel 10.6 or 10.8 mHz away. Say you applied for 99.5. You can move to 98.9, 99.1, 99.3, 99.7, 99.1 or 100.1, or to 88.7 or 88.9.
Will the FCC open a “major change” (more than +/- 3 channels) opportunity for MX applicants?
Yes. Sometime in the next few months the FCC will issue a Public Notice announcing MX groups (they said they will do them in batches - maybe regionally). At that point, a 90-day period will begin in which MX applicants can move to any channel on the dial that is available if it is for the purpose of removing themselves from an MX group. This will also be the period when applicants can submit timeshare settlement agreements.
Even though I already have a construction permit, can I make minor facility changes?
Yes. However, changing your transmission site location might trigger other necessary technical changes - e.g. the height of the antenna, interference factors with other station, etc. So if that is the case, those other changes would have to be added to the amendment as well. The tower height can also be modified, but note again that that could change requirements for your power. These changes are done through amendments, you are not submitting a new application but are amending your existing one.
Prometheus provides this service. For more details, check out http://prometheusradio.org/services.
Someone filed a challenge against my application, what should I do?
If someone files a challenge in the form of a petition to deny, the FCC is required to investigate, meaning that you will have to file an opposition within 30 days of the date of public notice. If you have questions about filing an opposition, contact us.
Individuals and organizations are also allowed to challenge your application in the form of an informal objection. The FCC is not required to investigate these, so it is up to you whether or not to file an opposition to an informal objection.
You may also receive emails, phone calls, etc. attacking your application. You can simply ignore them if an official complaint has not been registered with the FCC. Even if the sender/caller claims to have filled an official complaint, however, you do not need to defend yourself via personal communication. Again, file an opposition within 30 days of any complaint’s date of public notice and let the FCC come to a decision. More info on challenges and oppositions.