LPFM Faithful Prepare for Expansion
     

Kessler and Gehman Associates Inc. prepared this study of 88.1 MHz prior to the FCC action. White areas were those where a new LPFM facility could operate on that frequency; areas in pink were precluded. The company says this demonstrates how little space was available to add LPFMs on 88.1 prior to the changes. (The map considers third-adjacent, second-adjacent and IF.)
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WASHINGTON — More space on the FM dial is coming for low-power broadcasters, but demand for those new frequencies is expected to be very high, according to low-power advocates.

The FCC is targeting October to open a filing window for new LPFM licenses.

Low-power FM stations, which broadcast at a maximum of 100 watts and typically reach seven to 10 miles from the antenna, have until now been relegated to mostly rural locations. However, the commission believes that frequencies in urban areas will become available due to relaxed criteria for LPFMs seeking a waiver for second-adjacent channel spacing requirements and an interference remediation scheme.

According to FCC figures, there are 824 licensed LPFMs at present. Thousands of new LPFM stations are expected to be authorized as a result of the agency’s action in November, according to LPFM broadcast observers.

Common Frequency, an LPFM/college radio advocate and consultant, called the FCC’s action “historic” and “a lifting of the barriers of entry into noncommercial broadcasting that have resulted in media ownership diversity statistics hitting record lows.”

It’s been more than a decade since the first LPFM filing window, according to the FCC. Estimates of the likely number of applications vary widely; Amherst Alliance has put it at up to 10,000, while other estimates are lower.

Prometheus Radio Project, an LPFM advocate and consultant, said the long-awaited action is expected to generate strong interest from non-profit organizations, schools, churches, public safety agencies and other eligible groups. Prometheus estimates a community group can launch a low-power FM station for as little as $10,000 for the engineering work and equipment needed.

Differences from first round

“There is a lot of interest in starting stations, particularly in urban areas, so the limiting factor will be the availability of urban channels. Many urban channels will require second-adjacent frequency waivers, and applicants will need to hire consulting engineers to produce the studies required for waiver requests,” said Brandy Doyle, policy director at Prometheus.

How Many New LPFMs?

It remains to be seen how many LPFM frequencies become available due to the relaxed criteria for second-adjacent channel protection waivers, but one LPFM advocate sees opportunities as well as limitations.

“The second-adjacent waiver will definitely allow for opportunities in certain urban areas as long as your transmitter site is near the second-adjacent channel full-service stations,” said Michi Eyre, the founder of REC Networks. “The problem I think we are going to face in some second-adjacent channel situations is that the predicted overlap zones will be too large due to distance to the second-adjacent channel sites.”

Eyre predicts that more LPFM stations in urban areas will actually be located in the “urbanized areas” and not communications sites that serve a particular area.

For example, Eyre points to Compton, Calif., as what should be a perfect candidate for a local voice.

“There are two potential second adjacent waiver channels in the area. However, each channel is estimated to require about a 160 meter zone of no ‘potential listeners.’ In a densely populated area, this eliminates the ability to construct the station at a place like a community center or something similar because the community center and surrounding homes and businesses would be considered potential listeners.”

Perhaps with some “engineering trickery” or an expensive directional array, Eyre said, an LPFM could overcome the obstacles.

“But in cities like Los Angeles, where all of the big sticks are on Mount Wilson and other distant sites, this greatly reduces the opportunities in the inner city.”

Randy J. Stine

That’s a change from the first round of LPFM licensing, when it was easier for laypeople to submit applications without hiring engineers, she said.

Prometheus expects new LPFM licensing in major cities like Miami, Denver, Chicago and some others, though not all. “Unfortunately, the LPFM outlook in Detroit and New York City, for instance, isn’t good. Although there will be some opportunities in the broader market, we don’t expect anything in those cities.”

Potential LPFM applicants should begin preparing as soon as possible, Doyle said, because consulting engineers will get busier as the filing date window gets closer.

LPFM advocate Conexus expects 3,000 to 5,000 applicants will ask the FCC for LPFM licenses. Conexus bases its estimate on customer inquiries, Internet forum chatter and FCC comments concerning the latest Report and Order.

Conexus principal Leo Ashcraft, a broadcast consulting engineer, reminds potential applicants that the FCC requires an LPFM applicant to be a non-profit entity as recognized by the state in which it is based.

“So while IRS 501(c)(3) status is not required at the time of filing, some sort of state non-profit charter is required,” said Ashcraft. “A tower site needs to be located and secured before the engineering portion of the application can begin. That means locking down a tower site with a lease option.”

Conexus wasn’t completely satisfied with the FCC order. It stated in a press release, “While the FCC has made great strides with this latest order, and moving forward towards and October 2013 filing window, we feel a few items were swept under the proverbial rug, including lack of a LP10 class of stations and more power for rural radio stations.”

REC Networks is another proponent projecting high interest levels this October. Founder Michi Eyre expects a minimum of 2,800 LPFM applications.

“Organizations such as Prometheus Radio Project have done an amazing job with outreach and I am pretty sure they have a lot of eligible organizations waiting in the wings to get their voices heard on the air,” said Eyre, who also is an aspiring LPFM broadcaster.

Eyre recommends that potential applicants begin searching for open channels via the FCC LPFM Channel Finder program at www.fcc.gov, or REC’s finder tool at mylpfm.com.

“If you use the FCC LPFM Channel Finder for searching for LPFM channels at this time, you need to keep in mind that the results coming back may be very conservative as those tools do not take into consideration the translator applications that could be potentially dismissed as a result of the anti-preclusion requirement,” Eyre said.

As Radio World previously reported, the FCC attempted to balance the competing needs between those hoping for new LPFM stations and existing broadcasters that have had some 6,000 FM translator applications pending since 2003.

Translator caps

The agency bumped up the national cap on pending FM translator applications that one entity can pursue from 50 to 70, as long as no more than 50 are in the top 150 markets. It relaxed the local cap of one application per entity to up to three applications one company can pursue in more rural markets.

Major Points in the FCC’s LPFM Order:

- Sets Oct. 15, 2013, as the target date of a new LPFM filing window.

- Adopts an LPFM service standard for second-adjacent channel spacing waivers, which specifies the manner in which a waiver applicant can satisfy the standard and the manner in which the FCC will handle complaints of interference caused by LPFM stations operating pursuant to second-adjacent waivers.

- Establishes separate third-adjacent channel interference remediation regimes for short-spaced and fully-spaced LPFM stations.

- “Upon receipt of a complaint of interference caused by an LPFM station operating pursuant to a second-adjacent waiver, the commission must notify the LPFM station by telephone or other electronic communication within one business day. The LPFM station must suspend operation immediately upon notification that it is causing interference to the reception of any existing or modified full-service FM station. The LPFM may not resume operations until such interference has been eliminated or it can demonstrate that the interference was not due to [its] emissions. The LPFM station, however, may make short test transmissions during the period of suspended operation to check the efficacy of remedial measures.”

- Revises rules to permit cross-ownership of an LPFM station and up to two FM translator stations. The FCC has adopted a number of restrictions on such cross-ownership in order to ensure that the LPFM service retains its extremely local focus.

- Modifies the point system used to select from among mutually exclusive LPFM applications by adding new criteria to promote the staffing of a main studio, radio service proposals by tribal nations to serve tribal lands and new entry into radio broadcasting.

- New LPFM stations will be required to broadcast periodic announcements that alert listeners to the potential for interference and instruct them to contact the station to report any interference. These announcements must be broadcast for a period of one year after construction.

- Requires LPFM applicants to protect the reception directly, off-air of third-adjacent channel input signals from any station, including full-service FM stations and FM translator stations.

- Eliminates the LP10 class of service and does not create an LP50 class.

- Eliminates the intermediate frequency (I.F.) protection requirements applicable to LPFM stations.

LPFM advocates generally seem satisfied with the FCC’s action regarding translators and think the Media Bureau did the best it could without further delaying the processing of translator applications from the 2003 filing window, according to Radio World inquiries.

“Any delays for the 2003 backlog of translator applications would have also delayed the LPFM filing window,” said Conexus’ Ashcraft.

The pending filing window may very well be the last chance for LPFM hopefuls to get a slice of FM spectrum, according to Bill Godfrey, engineering associate with Kessler and Gehman Associates, Inc.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if as many as 7,500 applications are filed during the FCC window that is projected to open in October of 2013,” said Godfrey. “The FM airwaves are already very congested in many areas so an LPFM filing window of this magnitude, followed by an FM translator filing window projected to open a year or two later, could truly extinguish any future filing windows for new LPFM stations.”

Further, Godfrey said applicants should recognize that the competition for LPFM stations will be intense and many applications will be won based on a points system.

“Therefore, with only 10 months until the window opens, now is the time to prepare so that applicants can retain the services of broadcast attorneys and consulting engineers early in order to maximize the points that will be awarded by the FCC during the selection process in the likely event that their application is evaluated with other competing applications in a mutually exclusive [MX] scenario,” Godfrey said.

Another LPFM supporter agreed the congested FM spectrum will present ever-shrinking opportunities for licenses.

“Crowded spectrum is spreading to more and more geographical areas,” said Don Schellhardt, president of Amherst Alliance and a government relations attorney specializing in communications and energy. “Sooner or later, and I sure hope it’s sooner, the comparative social value of [LPFM] stations must be taken into account when frequencies are being allocated.”

Power levels remain contentious for some faithful who advocate higher power, perhaps 250 watts, for rural LPFMs. And they believe that a class of 50-watt stations possibly could have boosted the number of opportunities in heavily congested urban areas. However, many analysts agree any further LPFM adaptations will have to wait.

“For both LP50 and LP250, it’s in everyone’s best interest that we wait until after the window,” said REC’s Eyre.

Meanwhile, a group of low-power FM advocates, unhappy with current power levels, has formed to encourage the commission to reconsider an LP250 radio service.

“We will take no immediate action at the FCC,” a spokesman for the group explained, “because we do not wish to disrupt the LPFM filing window which is currently unfolding. Instead, we will file a Petition for Rulemaking in 2013, asking for the commission to take action in 2014 — after the LPFM filing window has closed. At that time, where feasible and appropriate, licensed LP100 stations should be permitted to upgrade to LP250 stations.”

Conexus said the original LPFM service was proposed at 1,000 watts but was limited to 100 watts and below, in part, due to potential the interference with full-time FMs.

The FCC created the LPFM radio service in 2000 and authorized it for non-commercial educational broadcasting only. Stations must operate with an effective radiated power of 100 watts or less with a maximum antenna height of 30 meters above average terrain, according to the agency.The LCRA, which was signed by President Obama after its passage by Congress in late 2010, explicitly authorized the FCC to license more local low-power FM radio stations.

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton stated after the new LPFM rules were released: “We support faithful implementation of the [Local Community Radio Act] and look forward to working with the commission and the LPFM community in the future.”

Next time: The impact on translators.


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