Preparing for Low Power FM: What is Low Power FM?

All over the country and across the FM broadcast band, there are radio stations operating with the power of a light bulb. These low power FM stations (LPFMs ) continuously pump out high-powered content. LPFMs are a forum for schools, churches, community centers, farm worker organizations, environmentalists, and just about anyone else who doesn't get much airtime on the higher-powered stations. 

Low Power FM Background

The FCC launched the Low Power FM service in 2000 at the behest of smaller broadcasters who had been forced off the air by increased media consolidation over the past century. The service was entirely commercial-free, and licenses were only granted to registered non-profit organizations. LPFM stations could operate at a maximum power of 100 watts and a height of 30 meters, which generally provided solid coverage within a 3.5-mile radius and often reached high-quality radios 10 miles away.

Unfortunately, as the FCC was starting to license new stations, Congress stepped in at the behest of larger broadcasters and made some devastating restrictions about where new LPFMs could be placed relative to existing stations. The stated reason for this legislation involved concerns about interference to larger radio stations. The interference concerns were shortly disproved by a third-party taxpayer-funded study and the FCC asked Congress to repeal the legislation, but the restrictions stayed in place for 10 years, severely limiting the availability of LPFM channels in urban areas.

The New Wave of Low Power FM

After 10 years of work by Prometheus, our allies across the country, and many champions in Congress, the Local Community Radio Act was signed into law in January of 2011, freeing the FCC to license new stations without the harsh restrictions. After revisiting the rules in more detail, the FCC is expected to open a new window for Low Power FM applications in 2012. Nobody can say yet exactly when that opportunity will be, but now is the time to start preparing!