LPFMs Draw Small But Loyal Fan Base

The FCC published interesting data about low-power FM radio. The numbers came within a report to Congress about the economic impact of LPFMs on full-service commercial stations.

In brief, the study found no meaningful impact, a conclusion with which I must agree. But I also find it interesting to look at the charts within the report, the most comprehensive I’ve seen regarding LPFM as it exists in the marketplace.

For example, the table here lists the top 10 LPFM stations in the Arbitron ratings using three types of metrics. Perusing, we find that even the top-drawing LPFM doesn’t have a huge number of listeners — 2,900 Average Quarter Hour Persons — and this was an outlier. The third-highest station had only 800.

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But LPFM listeners apparently stick with their stations. Note the Time Spent Listening market rankings at lower right. Five LPFMs achieved the highest TSL in their markets, and 11 were among the top five, according to the study. (The highest TSL for an LPFM station was 2,115 minutes, or about 35 hours, per week.)

“The top-rated LPFM stations,” the FCC found, “tend to have high TSL and low cume person values, relative to full-service stations. These measures suggest that the popular LPFM stations tend to attract a small but loyal fan base who tune in for long periods and/or switch stations less often than the average full-service station listener.” This makes sense to me, having started my radio career at a small college station that aired a block format and had relatively few listeners but engendered a high level of passion in them. To me, LPFMs capture a facet of what radio can be all about, or should be all about.

The FCC study in general found that LPFMs serve primarily small and rural markets and have geographic and population reaches “many magnitudes smaller” than those of full-service commercial FMs; that their ratings, if any, are negligible; and that audiences are far smaller than those of full-service stations in their markets.

You may feel differently. Comment to me at radioworld@nbmedia.com.

This discussion comes as industry anticipates another flurry of new LPFMs thanks to congressional action easing interference protections. If you’re interested in LPFM and the impact of more low-power stations, read the FCC report. It summarizes the history of the service and the concerns of other observers, including the NAB, which argues that niche-formatted stations, particularly in urban areas, are likely to be hurt by an expansion of LPFM. NAB submitted a study concluding that full-service stations with niche formats generally have smaller potential audiences and low revenues, which make them especially vulnerable if they experience a decline in listenership.

Read the FCC report at radioworld.com/LPFM-impact-study.

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