Preparing for Low Power FM: Finding an Available Channel

What is a Radio Frequency?
A radio wave is an electromagnetic wave propagated by an antenna. Radio waves have different frequencies, and by tuning a radio receiver to a specific frequency you can pick up a specific signal.

Why do I need a free channel to apply for LPFM?
A radio license is not like a drivers license- you can’t operate your radio station wherever you please. The FCC requires there be an available frequency in your area in order to apply for a Low Power FM station.  The transmitter and antenna can only be assigned to an exact geographic location, and you have to specify a location in your application that meets the FCC's requirements.  

Additionally, the frequency must not be in use and must not interfere with other stations. If granted a license for that frequency, it will be unique and specific to your station. With the license, you will also be given call letters to go along with the frequency you have selected. 

How do I know if there is an available frequency?
One great resource to find an available frequency is the LPFM Channel Search Tool at REC Networks. REC Networks already allows you to do a basic channel search in a geographical region based on some predictions about what the new rules will look like. However, we won’t know what channels are truly available until after the FCC finalizes the rules for the LPFM program.  Also, even though the channel finder is a great predicter of channel availibility, REC data is never guaranteed (hence why it is a free resource) and does not take the place of a qualified consulting engineer.

Instructions for Channel Checking on Recnet:  

Since the FCC's LPFM rules are not yet finalized, the instructions below offer three ways to check for available frequencies at your location: safer, less guaranteed, and least guaranteed. Keep in mind that the REC Net search is based on availability at a particular location, so if you get a negative result, try a nearby spot! 

First pass: Channel availability under the almost-guaranteed FCC rules (safer option)

For a safer bet, try your LPFM  search at http://cdbs.recnet.net:8080/lpfm.php with the following options:

  • Channel Search (not Channel Report or Reject Report)
  • LP-100
  • All check boxes un-checked  

Possible outcomes:

Yes!
There is probably at least one channel available at your location that won’t require a special waiver. This means you should be able to apply for that channel without hiring an engineer to complete your application (though it never hurts to have an engineer double-check it if you have the resources to pay them).

  • The available channels are listed under “The following channel(s) may be available”.
  • If a channel says “May receive interference from...”, then it may be harder for listeners on the fringes of your coverage area to hear your signal.

“Sorry”, with channels listed under “Second Adjacent Waiver”
There may be a channel available, but it will require a special waiver to apply for it. The FCC has not yet set rules on when such waivers will be available. Once the rules are finalized, if such waivers are widely available, you would need to hire an engineer to create the waiver exhibit. We expect this to cost between $300 and $2000. There’s also a small chance that upcoming rule changes will open up a channel in your area that doesn’t require a waiver.

“Sorry” with no channels listed: The channel finder did not find an open channel at your location.
However, this is based on a fairly conservative prediction about what the FCC’s rules will be. You can try another search with better-case scenario options (see below) to see if there would be a channel at your location with more optimistic rules. You can also try other nearby locations to see if you have more luck.

Second pass: Channel availability under an optimistic prediction of future FCC rules (less guaranteed)

If you cound not find an available frequency using the "first pass" above, try an LPFM search at
http://cdbs.recnet.net:8080/lpfm.php with the following options:

  • Channel Search (not Channel Report or Reject Report)
  • LP-100
  • Exclude IF

Possible outcomes:

“Yes!”
There would be at least one channel available at your location under "better case scenario” FCC rules.

“Sorry” with channels listed under “Second Adjacent Waiver”
There may be a channel available if the FCC adopts rules that open more channels for low power stations, but the FCC would require you to use a special waiver when applying. 

“Sorry” with no channels listed
The channel finder did not find an open channel at your location, even assuming that the FCC adopts rules that open more channels for low power stations. Unfortunately, the chances of an available station at your location are very small. Try other nearby locations to see if you have more luck.

Third pass: Channel availability under an optimistic prediction of future FCC rules which includes LP-10s (least guaranteed)

The potential applicant does an LPFM search at http://cdbs.recnet.net:8080/lpfm.php with the following options:

  • Channel Search (not Channel Report or Reject Report)
  • LP-10
  • Exclude IF

Possible outcomes:

“Yes!”
There would be at least one LP-10 channel available at your location under “better case scenario” FCC rules. Right now, the FCC is not planning to license LP-10 stations (which are 10 watt LPFMs), so you would only have a frequency if the FCC changes their plans.

“Sorry” with channels listed under “Second Adjacent Waiver”
There may be an LP-10 channel available if the FCC adopts rules that open more channels for low power stations, but it would require a special waiver to apply for it. 
Again, the FCC is not planning to license LP-10 stations (which are 10 watt LPFMs), so you would only have a frequency if the FCC changes their plans.

“Sorry” with no channels listed
The channel finder did not find an open channel at your location, even assuming that the FCC adopts rules that open more channels for low power stations. The chances of an available station at your location are very small.

 Keeping Up to Date
There are constant changes going into the tool right now in response to the latest changes.  We strongly suggest you periodically look at the REC Networks Release Notes page.

 
You might also consider following REC on Facebook as messages are usually posted when a new release of the LPFM Tool is made referring users to the release notes page.