Should the FCC license 250-watt low-power FM stations? What
about 10-watt stations?
That debate is beginning to get traction as the industry has
more time to digest the commission’s decisions earlier this week on LPFM and FM
translators as well as the agency’s additional proposals.
Right now, there are two classes of LPFMs, 100 watts and 10
watts, though the FCC has only issued construction permits and licenses for
In its latest notice of proposed rulemaking on LPFM, the
agency is asking for public input on whether the LP10 class should be
eliminated, without much explanation.
It’s also asking whether a higher-power class, at 250 watts,
should be approved for rural areas that are not as spectrum-challenged as urban
areas. Both the Amherst Alliance and the Catholic Radio Association favor
When Radio World asked for comment on the issue, Don
Schellhardt and Nick Leggett, the original two co-petitioners who got the ball
rolling on LPFM licensing at the commission, said they favor licensing 250-watt
LPFMs in rural areas and retaining the LP10s in urban areas.
On the whole, they’re happy with the proposals and say with
the timing of the commission actions this week, odds are good that the agency
can meet its goal of opening an LPFM filing window later this year.
The potential 10-watt elimination gives them pause, however.
Speaking as individuals, Schellhardt and Leggett told Radio World that losing
the LP10s would “close the option of ‘stretching’ scarce spectrum over more
urban LPFM stations by reducing the wattage of the
typical station. Due to much higher population density, and therefore
much larger potential audiences per square mile, an urban LPFM can survive
financially at 10 watts, or in extreme cases even at 1 watt, although this
wattage could bankrupt an LPFM in a small town.”
The two cite analysis by Common Frequency and REC networks,
for example, which they say shows that New York City can’t accommodate any
LP100s at all, but can permit allocation of one LP10. By the same analysis, Los
Angeles could fit in only one LP100 but would be able to accommodate five LP10s
and San Francisco can accommodate two LP100s but could also fit in five LP10s.
Schellhardt and Leggett urged the commission to explain the
reasoning behind the potential elimination of the LP10 class of service, noting
that when the agency opened the first LPFM filing window more than a decade
ago, it said LP100s would be licensed first and 10-watt stations would be
Comments are due on the further NPRM to MM Docket 99-25 30 days
after Federal Register publication.