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Community Broadcaster: Amping Up Low Power

Wherever you fall on latest filings, LPFM needs more focus

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

The Federal Communications Commission recently received a wave of filings by low-power FM advocates, most notably the Prometheus Radio Project and Common Frequency. And while opinions varied greatly as to the effectiveness of the filings, one thing is clear: as it gains prominence in many communities, LPFM deserves much more attention.

The May action made headlines primarily given the number and scope. The lodging of nearly 1,000 claims is for the most part unprecedented. What’s more, the leading group was certain to grab attention. The Prometheus Radio Project is one of LPFM’s earliest logistical support organizations, helping scores of stations with paperwork, engineering and a variety of guidance that indubitably helped local groups navigate themselves to broadcast.

According to Prometheus, “FM translators repeat the signal of an existing FM station, or an AM station, so it can be heard on the FM dial. This has become quite important lately to AM station owners. AM reception quality is deteriorating and their listenership is declining so they acquire FM translators in order to get their broadcast on the FM dial. Their interests must be balanced equally against low-power applicants, who by definition are new entrants to the market, who have never had any station or listeners.”

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Time of Need]

While there are many fundamental agreements, REC Networks — which, like Prometheus, has done incredibly important work for LPFM — took issue with some of those contentions. “Where we have a serious conflict with Prometheus et al, was the execution of the nearly 1,000 informal objections that were filed against applications, including those that were not even accepted for filing,” REC notes. “Instead of filing against the translator proposals that would cause these LPFM short spacing, they decided to arbitrarily file against any translator application with a pulse.”

Moreover, while the filings have been dissected in many forums, it should not be too surprising why such a move was made. In a few circles, rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that the FCC needs to take transparent action on LPFM and other matters. Whether that’s wholly accurate or not remains to be seen, but filings are one way of spurring the commission to make a call, one way or another.

As well, you can appreciate REC’s position, for the difficulties this maneuver creates for everyone, not just the most contentious instances.

Regardless of one’s opinion, it is evident that agencies and the noncommercial broadcast space must give greater attention to the growth and expansion of LPFM. To its credit, many talented people at the FCC are aware of the needs of LPFM — through the work of the aforementioned organizations and others, concerned citizens and communities that need these stations most. And if there is merit to the underlying issue that the FCC may have violated Section 5 of the Local Community Radio Act, which states that licenses are available for both LPFM and FM translators, one has to believe everyone would want such rectified quickly.

As the United States’ oldest and largest community radio organization, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters is fortunate enough to have a significant membership of LPFMs. We hear their stories every day, and how much they mean to their communities. People are passionate about LPFM, because it fulfills the promise of media access that rural areas and small cities genuinely desire.

In Arlington, Va., LPFM community radio station WERA(LP) recently won renewal of local support after the potential loss of funding brought out community members to reflect to city leaders just how much a difference the station makes to residents.

In Wimberly, a small town in Texas, Wimberly Valley Radio’s daily morning show gives its residents a look at what’s happening in their neighborhoods by way of people in the community.

In Seattle, KVRU(LP) is pioneering multilingual programming in its diverse Washington state region, starting first with public service announcements in several languages, but expanding later this year to more content serving immigrant and non-English monolingual neighborhoods.

In Richmond, Va., LPFM community radio station WRIR(LP) is offering its city fascinating local programming with a legion of digital producers and expansive outreach campaign intended to make the radio it does inclusive and local.

In Nashville, award-winning LPFM community radio station WXNA(LP) is celebrating two years on the air. Its impact on the local music scene and boost to the area has been immeasurable as it continues to be a hub of active, creative radio.

In tiny towns across California and beyond, Radio Bilingue serves Spanish-speaking communities with its network of LPFMs scattered across the region.

In Charlottesville, Va., LPFM college radio WXTJ, operated by NFCB Regional Summit host WTJU(LP), is presenting cutting-edge student-run programming, podcasts and multiplatform content.

Do you think LPFMs are just micro radio? Think again. The New York Times and many more outlets have highlighted how LPFM has generated new levels of engagement with radio. LPFM comes at a time when there are plenty of think-pieces belaboring the death of the medium. That movement is only growing.

Much valuable work lies ahead, though, in pursuit of a richer, more accessible LPFM space that is respected and appreciated by all.

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