NON-PROFITS: How would YOU use a radio station?

From the Tucson Citizen by 

 on Feb. 13, 2012



On Saturday, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Prometheus Radio Project, a group that helps non-profit organizations start their own community radio stations. Had you heard of Low Power FM Radio Service? I hadn’t. I didn’t even know local groups could operate their own radio stations.

I learned at the meeting that the airwaves, managed by the FCC, were originally given to broadcasters to responsibly serve the people. As with many aspects of life in America in 2012, radio stations generally focus on corporate profits, not the common good. (To me, the important questions are, ‘How much profit is enough? Shouldn’t a line be drawn when greed tramples serving the people?’) The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed for massive mergers and now TV and radio policies and programs are controlled by a few large corporations. What if you could be an independent voice? How would you use your airtime to make a difference for the people you serve?

Chet Gardiner, Community Radio Expert, Tucson, Az

It’s not easy to operate a radio station, especially with volunteers, but it is being done. It’s not easy to apply to the FCC for a license to operate a community radio station, but Prometheus and a local group,, are available to help. They believe the airwaves belong to the people and should be operated by and for the people. I agree. Non-profit organizations, schools, churches and community organizers exist solely to serve the people who need them. I say, ‘You would control the content. Why not expand your reach?’

In 2000, when the FCC launched Low Power (10 to 100 watts) FM service, Congress was swayed by lobbyists and passed laws to limit it. Grass roots organizers like Prometheus have been campaigning for the peoples’ right to broadcast since that time. In 2010, Congress responded and passed the Local Community Radio Act. In Tucson, there is enough space on the FM bandwidth for up toten LPFM stations. There is, of course, an application process.


The FCC will:


  • Publish the rules (possibly in June, 2012)
  • Open the application window (a period likely to be less than a week)
  • Accept applications (perhaps in September/October)
  • Announce the single and multi-group applicants
  • Announce how long they will take to decide who receives a license
  • Announce the winners
  • Award construction permits

The rules will likely be similar to these from the past:

  • Must be a registered non-profit organization (at least two years is better)
  • Must have an educational mission
  • No advertising can be sold
  • The non-profit headquarters must be within 10 miles of the location of the transmitter and antenna
  •  75% of the board members must live within 10 miles of the transmitter

The costs to establish a LPFM radio station are estimated at a minimum of $20,000:

  • Fees: $500-$3000 for legal fees and an engineering study to check for potential interference on the radio band
  • Studio Equipment: $5000 minimum
  • Transmitting Equipment: $4000-$12,000 + the cost of the FCCs Emergency Alert System
  • Content Licensing: $600 per year for on-air broadcasting; more for web-streams
  • Recurring Costs: Rent, power, phone, office supplies, etc, equipment maintenance, costs related to creating content and any paid employees?


Questions to ask yourself are: Who will be the responsible license-holder? What would the on-air content be? Who will create and produce the content?



Non-Profits: What Should You Do Now?


Designate a location for the transmitter/antenna/equipment. Use the zip code to do a radio band channel search at: Network and collaborate with others who will help establish the station. With group applications, each non-profit organization could be responsible for creating specific amounts of content. Apply for community grants. Plan events to engage your neighborhoods. Speak to the minds, hearts and souls of your community. Tell them why local, people-powered radio is important. Raise money community-wide and from individual donors. Gain support of local businesses who care about your cause. Establish an online presence. Ask local media to do a story. Learn how others are successfully operating LPFMs. Contact Chet Gardiner at and Prometheus for help with your questions and project:

Prometheus Radio Project
PO BOX 42158
Philadelphia, PA 19101
(215) 727-9620