Comments by Womble Carlyle attorney John Garziglia in the article
“FM Translator Roulette
Begins” (Radio World, March 13) sure set off some
sparks. Here is a smattering of what we’ve gathered.
The final commentary below is from Garziglia, in response.
Accessible to Underserved Populations
My letter is in response to a quotation in Radio World stating that
low-power FM broadcasters are merely hobbyists who are playing at
radio. I am one of the original petitioners to the FCC for the LPFM
radio service (Docket 99-25).
The statement about LPFM playing with radio is completely incorrect.
LPFM operators are serious radio broadcasters with a serious interest
in serving their local communities. One of the most important aspects
of LPFM radio is that it allows minority communities to have their
own radio stations that can be used for community building.
example, minority people living in the inner city can use LPFM
stations to bring community news and events to their own
neighborhoods. This opportunity supports the constitutional law’s
focus on equal opportunity rights for all Americans.
Radio is not just for economic elites to make large sums of money.
Radio is also for minorities to grow and accomplish a better status
within the nation. Also, few women own radio stations today. In the
future, women and minorities can move into radio ownership, starting
with LPFM radio.
addition, new producers of program content can access the airwaves
through LPFM. Members of the community can participate in the
development and presentation of programs. Radio broadcasting can be
for everyone in the United States, not just a few.
Nickolaus E. Leggett
Retired Technical Writer
Alcatel Data Networks
Quote Was a Poor Choice
was a little surprised at the line accusing LPFM applicants of being
“mostly hobby broadcasters that would like to play radio with an
realize it was a quote, but I think including it in the article did
very little to calm the waters. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I’m sure there probably are some LPFM applicants that are little
more than hobby broadcasters, most whom I’ve met are quite serious
about what they are doing. At best, I thought the comment was a cheap
Since I was the founder of one of the first LPFM stations to be
awarded a construction permit in Texas, I think I can speak from some
experience. At the time, most LPFM applicants were quite serious in
their quest to serve their community, by offering programming that
was not available in their area.
I doubt that has changed.
the initial application process, I got to know many (LPFM
applicants/operators). Over the next 10 years or so, I again got to
know quite a few people who were operating LPFM stations. I’ve
found very few “radio wannabes.” In fact, several of the leaders
of the movement were experienced radio veterans.
product is as professional as anyone’s. Imagine that.
old LPFM station, KZQX(LP), became successful enough to acquire a
commercial FM frequency. Radio World even wrote a nice article about
our transformation (“From LPFM to Commercial FM: It’s
Complicated,” August 2011).
that time, we’ve acquired a local AM station and a couple of FM
translators to go with it. The reason we were able to do that is
because we had enough listeners to make it possible. There is demand
for our programming.
has to start somewhere. Rather than oppose LPFM, commercial
broadcasters (myself included) should welcome it, realizing that it
can be the incubator for the next generation of radio broadcasters.
Your new employees have to come from somewhere.
the FCC is really serious about localism in radio, they should allow
translators to originate local programming. That would be
advantageous to existing commercial broadcasters who could use them
to super-serve their communities.
would allow LPFM advocates a way to inject localism into the
airwaves, maybe at enough power to garner a reasonable audience. Even
the satellite translator broadcasters could benefit by leasing time
to local operators.
could be a lot of winners in such a scenario. Allowing daytime AMs to
broadcast overnight on their translators has already established a de
facto commercial LPFM service. Why not just even out the playing
Don’t Have to Like LPFM, But Respect It
the years, I have worked with John Garziglia to persuade the FCC to
allow locally originated programming on translators. And I have
worked against John by pressing the FCC to allow LPFM stations below
where we have disagreed, our encounters have been consistently
courteous and respectful. In his latest statement, however, John has
unfairly trivialized the value of volunteer service at community
radio stations and has inaccurately understated the level of
professional radio expertise in the LPFM movement.
I cannot speak for all LPFM advocacy groups, and especially not for
Prometheus Radio Project, which has its own distinct political
agenda. I am nevertheless co-founder and current president of the
Amherst Alliance, as well as attorney for Let the Cities In.
has been working for LPFM since 1998, while LTCI, focused on
expanding urban LPFM, is only four months old.
Within these two groups, I can assure you, calling the average
aspiring LPFM broadcaster a “hobbyist” is like calling the deacon
of a church a hobbyist. Some of our members have spent years and
years, at dozens of hours a week, donating labor to (and even
self-subsidizing) Internet radio stations and/or Part 15 AM stations
that might be the only local stations in their community.
this is a “hobby,” so is service as a volunteer firefighter.
me add that some of the aspiring LPFM broadcasters, in both Amherst
and LTCI, are former “mainstream” radio station personnel. They
were forced out of “mainstream” radio by the reckless media
consolidation that Congress and the FCC have permitted since the
Clinton Administration. Now these individuals are “finding their
way” back into broadcasting, through a new path that is open to
them only because they, and other activists, went out and fought for
Garziglia has the right to dislike LPFM if he wishes, but he should
at least acknowledge and respect the tremendous human talent that is
present in groups like Amherst and LTCI.
The Amherst Alliance
A Difference in
Size, Not Professionalism
I agree with much of
the article’s attention given to the fact that the FCC has a real
problem on its hands, having to deal with issues of fair use of
available FM spectrum. However, I was very offended and, yes, even
angered by the comments made by John Garziglia regarding those that
might seek to get an LPFM station.
demonstrates the ignorance of those who simply oppose this service as
being a nuisance to commercial radio.
His statements that
somehow the whole FM band is being harmed (in favor of a nascent
promise of community-based programming from mostly hobby broadcasters
that would like to play radio with an LPFM station) indicates to me
that he has never meet an LPFM owner, or taken the time to see what
is involved in running these operations.
It may be true that
some do not do as good a job as they could; however, most LPFM
stations provide a community service to their areas, broadcasting
local events and news not even touched by the commercial stations.
I have been in
broadcasting for 30 years, and have owned two full-power stations.
The last 10 years have been spent running LPFMs. The only real
difference between a large commercial station and a well-run LPFM is
the size of the transmitter. From the exciter back to the control
board, the work is the same.
In fact, LPFM owners
have several disadvantages that will increase the workload. We are
faced with the fact that we have to work much harder to get the cash
flow to keep the station running, as well of the constant threat of
being displaced by a full-power upgrade. In the last 10 years, this
has happened to me three times.
And yes, we make a
substantial investment in equipment, tower leasing and property. I
personally know a number of LPFM broadcasters, and they all take
their stations seriously and, I might add, are very community
During the last
election cycle, we interviewed all but two of the local candidates
running for office. We have local organizations into the station on a
regular basis and run community PSAs. In our market, we are the only
station that provides these services, and they all come with no
So my suggestion to Mr.
Garziglia is that he get out and meet some of these dedicated people
who just want to play radio.
In New England, We Take LPFM Seriously
I read Randy J. Stine’s “FM Translator Roulette Begins” with
interest, but I am concerned about the perception of LPFM as
portrayed by Womble Carlyle attorney John Garziglia, who
characterized LPFM applicants as “mostly hobby broadcasters that
would like to play radio with an LPFM station.”
the contrary, Public Media of New England Inc., one of those aspiring
LPFM broadcasters, is compelled, and believes it is obligated, to
provide community news and programming to its core city of Haverhill,
with its more than 60,000 residents.
Public Media of New England operates the Internet radio station WHAV,
which is also relayed by seven public access television stations.
Since 2004, WHAV has carried on a local radio tradition of service
started by its former terrestrial namesake in 1947.
imagine the flood of 250-watt AM stations created just after World
War II, like WHAV, were similarly looked down upon at the time by
some people in the industry.
board and staff are civic-minded individuals motivated by a concern
that residents are not receiving adequate information to make life
choices, participate effectively in the democratic process or make
decisions in their own best interest.
terrestrial WHAV, and its Haverhill-centric programming, disappeared
after being consolidated in a group of stations. Similarly, the
once-daily Haverhill Gazette newspaper was reduced to a weekly and
its local office finally shuttered last year.
ill will is intended against these other media, as they have had
their own battles to wage. But the fact is that Public Media of New
England’s WHAV is now the sole medium to remain based in the city.
Online, WHAV operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with hourly
“Community Spotlight,” local weather and breaking local news.
There is also local talk programming and more.
existing Internet and cable operations, however, cannot reach a
significant segment of the population that remains without broadband
or cable television access. Moreover, radio is the ubiquitous medium
of choice during an emergency.
I believe most LPFM applicants share these motivations.
Public Media of New England Inc.
Headaches Are More Than a Hobbyist’s
I would love to respond to John Garziglia’s rather broad
mischaracterization of LPFM broadcasters. However, as I write this,
our community has experienced a very severe storm (which hit March
18), and both of the commercial broadcasters in town have been
effectively off-air for several days, leaving only our LPFM,
WQJJ(LP), on the air working with emergency management and other
local agencies — I simply do not have the time required to respond.
see, I am too busy “playing hobby radio” by getting news and
information out to the homeless and powerless people of our community
who are now needing to know where to find shelters and emergency
supplies until power (heat during sub-freezing nights) and other
utilities are restored so that they can go back home.
this is the fourth time we have been in just such a situation
of being the only station on the air within the past two years, we
are hoping that we may eventually convince the local commercial
broadcasters that they, too, may eventually want to invest in a
generator and a few additional emergency supplies so that they may
also be here to operate “in the public interest and necessity.”
The coverage afforded to us as an LPFM is extremely limited, so that
we do not interfere with (the income of) the much more
community-minded and responsible commercial broadcasters. These are
the same commercial broadcasters who claim not to see any financial
return from investing in emergency facilities.
the very least, I am very much hoping to eventually convince two
local stations that they do eventually need to invest in functional
EAS equipment. This has been an issue for some time now, as their
continued belief that “we’ve done just fine without the old
version since it was mandated in 1997, by broadcasting a recording of
a test at another station, so we’ll do just fine without this new
version, too” is a fallacy.
a quick thought from someone who is busy “playing hobby radio,”
while the local commercial stations are taking some time off while
utilities are being restored.
Are the True Locals
take offense to Mr. Garziglia’s generalized statement about LPFM
broadcasters being “mostly hobby broadcasters that would like to
play radio with an LPFM station.” Where is Mr. Garziglia getting
earlier paragraph specifically noted that these were his opinions and
feelings, not facts. Furthermore, where is it stated that so-called
“hobby broadcasters that would want to play radio” don’t have
as much right to market share as the big corporate stations?
I would argue that small potential LPFM operators are considerably
more focused on their local communities than any 100,000-watt
powerhouse. I started in small-market radio and worked my way up to
jobs in Los Angeles and I can tell you firsthand that small, local
radio stations truly serve their local communities, not always to the
expansion of their bottom lines or market share.
challenge Mr. Garziglia to produce evidence to support his opinions
about LPFM operators being “mostly hobby broadcasters.” I would
consider that most hobby broadcasters do so either online through
services like Nicecast, or Live365 or on “pirate” broadcast
operators are following the same proper procedures and FCC
regulations as large, high-power stations. All radio stations must
serve the public trust and who does that better?
giant mega-station that tells its audience that it is local in one
town, while being “local” also in another town hundreds of miles
away at the same time? No, sir.
operators face the same challenges and in most cases more challenges
than larger stations. Not only do LPFM operators have to continually
justify their existence to translator proponents, but they work
within the limitations of a non-profit when it comes to underwriting;
severely limiting their ability to generate revenue.
operators have small, sometimes “out-of-pocket” budgets that will
never rival the millions generated by huge corporate mega-stations.
Yet even facing these disadvantages, LPFM stations survive and, in
most cases, thrive in their local community.
I Unfairly Took Aim
at LPFM Proponents
The following is by
John Garziglia, who responded to Don Schellhardt’s letter above.
Don Schellhardt of the
LPFM proponent, The Amherst Alliance, shared his letter with me
objecting to my quote that characterized some LPFM proponents as
“hobby broadcasters.” Don states that I have “unfairly
trivialized the value of volunteer service at community radio
stations and [have] inaccurately understated the level of
professional radio expertise in the LPFM movement.”
Don is right to take
issue with my statement. I agree with him. In my zeal to promote the
removal of FCC regulatory barriers to enable AM stations that provide
superb community-based programming to obtain FM translators, I
unfairly took aim at LPFM proponents.
laud the community service goals of LPFM proponents. I am thrilled
that among LPFM proponents are people who dearly love and believe in
over-the-air broadcast radio. As one medium-market independent
broadcaster commented to me, LPFM stations may very well be the radio
training ground of the future and “if they get really good at it,
maybe they are our exit strategy if someday we want to sell.”
The hope of
broadcasters is, just as there are now many exemplary public radio
stations, that many LPFMs will similarly become great radio stations.
The fear, however, is that some LPFMs will become “satellitors”
or descend into a chaos reminiscent of CB radio, neither of which
would advance the goals of community-based broadcasting.
I fully appreciate the
goal of future broadcasters, including LPFM proponents, to have their
own radio station. But I do question the single focus of LPFM
proponents in larger radio markets to try to obtain
interference-creating 10-watt or 50-watt facilities when there is so
much of a current opportunity to now reach the radio market with
underutilized FM facilities.
The HD2 and HD3
channels that now cover larger communities have suboptimal usage and
few listeners. HD2 and HD3 channels are prime candidates for time
brokerage types of arrangements for community groups and aspiring
Yet I am aware of few
specific instances in which aspiring LPFM broadcasters have
approached FM HD stations seeking to broker time on an HD2 or HD3
channel. Yes, there would be a price involved, just as there will be
with owning an LPFM station, but the population coverage from an HD2
or HD3 channel would far exceed any LPFM station.
Don mentioned the
volunteer firefighter analogy for LPFM broadcasters. Broadcasting,
whether commercial or non-commercial, is a business in which the
electric, rent and maintenance bills must be paid. Even for volunteer
organizations, there are usually payrolls to meet.
A future LPFM
broadcaster is kidding herself if she does not think there will be a
substantial cost for a major-market LPFM tower space and operational
costs. Yes, volunteer firefighters receive no pay. But what must be
kept in mind is the cost of the firehouse rent, firehouse
infrastructure, fire engines, equipment and insurance, none of which
is free, and all of which have cost analogies to any radio station
operation even if staffed by volunteers.
In short, LPFM
stations, whether dependent upon a few wealthy donors or upon
donations from the community-at-large, will need significant revenues
to sustain quality operations which, going back to my original
comment, will cull out any “hobby broadcasters” in short order.
I encourage existing
broadcasters to embrace future LPFM broadcasters who aspire to
provide great broadcast programming, both for the good of the
community and for the future of broadcasting. I wish Don and his
group all of the best in their aspirations to become part of the
community of our nation’s great broadcasters.
John Garziglia is a
Washington attorney who represents radio broadcasters nationwide. He
recently participated on FCC Commissioner Pai’s AM Revitalization
Panel at the NAB Show.