What Will It Cost to Operate an LPFM?

LPFM applicant Dan Slentz has been writing here about the experience and the current application window. Slentz has done this before; he filed two applications in the earlier LPFM window, which both were awarded. One licensee backed out but the other became WNHS(LP) in Newcomerstown, Ohio.

A reader has asked what one should expect to spend monthly to run a station; Slentz answers below.

There are a lot of variables as to what your cost would/could be. Your format, support programming (news?), location, affiliation, etc. all can affect your costs.

First, anyone playing music must pay for music licensing via ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. WNHS(LP) in Newcomerstown, Ohio, pays about $2,500 a year for all these licenses combined. Fortunately the music licensing companies have LPFMs on the lowest “cost tier.”

If you are part of a church or school and your location and utilities are free, that’s big savings. Otherwise, you’ll have to figure this out. Don’t forget high-speed Internet and a local phone line (a local phone number is an FCC requirement).

On the low side of rent & utilities (unless free), I would budget $1,200 per month. Certainly this could be more … or even less ... depending on your location. Best “hope” is that you are part of a non-profit that can get the space donated or greatly discounted, or you are inside your parent organization’s building and they “give you the space” and don’t worry about the minimal amount of power you use.

If you do need to pay for utilities, you’ll find your biggest energy consumer is actually NOT your transmitter but your heat and air conditioning. The transmitter will likely use nothing more than 500 watts, and likely about 250 watts to 300 watts (about 1/4 or 1/5 of your daughter’s hair dryer!) Your space can be small, so you’re talking about something as small as a used car dealer might have on a small lot. A small studio and maybe an office area (see PDF example here). With luck, there is a bathroom, but a public “facility” in a commercial building is even better as it reduces additional costs (toilet paper, plumbing problems, air freshener, paper towels, etc.)

These are little “trivial” things, but remember that all these costs can really add up. Unlike a commercial station’s spots, which might generate $15 to $300, underwriting announcements can be a little more like “a dollar a holler.” You’ll see much lower “rates,” so you don’t want to spend one underwriter’s announcement fee simply for toilet paper.

With planning (and luck), you’ll have your antenna on a small tower on a high building or your own small tower. But if you do need to get your antenna on someone else’s tower, this could cost you some money. Prices for tower rental really depend on your city, availability of tower space, where your antenna is located on that tower (lower = cheaper), etc. A safe low cost would be $100, though I can’t see more than $250 per month for a space. The simple fact is your transmitter is no bigger than a carry-on suitcase, you use less than a hairdryer in total power, and you can’t go very high on the tower (per the FCC’s limitations on LPFM’s power/antenna height rules).
 LPFM studio example
  A Station Layout. Click on Image to Enlarge

If you wanted a content resource like AP News, that can be very expensive. The cost for AP for an LPFM was about $10k per year when I last checked. Oddly, AP is a “non-profit organization” that charges LPFMs (other non-profits) more than small-market commercial stations for the same service. I had an argument with a rep from AP over the justification for this and his response was “that’s just the way it is.”

If you are a music-oriented station and based on any sort of oldies, you have the one-time cost of purchasing your music. A “new music-oriented” station will need to budget a music subscription (companies like TM Studios http://www.tmstudios.com/music.asp and others provide this service). The days of “promo 45s” are pretty much long gone. You can get some service, but the fact is that even small-market commercial stations don’t get great music service any more. I like TM personally as they have a full-line service from new music to oldies libraries, production music, and even jingles. And they’ve been very “LPFM-friendly” to me in the past. I’d budget $200 per month for music.

Other items to budget for might include an emergency equipment repair/replacement fund, promotional budget, vehicle & insurance, property/personal injury insurance. Certainly putting a budget amount in place for emergencies is critical to any business.

Some numbers:

Item Variable Budget
Rent Free to $1200 $600
Utilities $150 to $300 $225
Music Licensing - $210
Music Subscription $100 to $300 $200
Tower Space Donated to $300 $200
Emergency Repair Fund $25 to $250 $100
Promotional Budget $25 to $250 $100

Extras Variable Budget
News Service Subscription $500 to $1800 $1200
Vehicle/Vehicle Insurance $300 to $1800 donated?
Property/Liability Insurance $100 to $400 $200

Looking at the above numbers, a “roundabout” budget of $2,000 per month looks possible.

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