Noncommercial radio is about to see the biggest boom in years. The Federal Communications Commission announced the dates when it will accept applications for full-power noncommercial radio stations later this year.
The announcement is massive news for noncommercial broadcasting. The FCC is making license opportunities available nationwide for the first time since 2010. Following criticism of that 2010 window, the commission has placed limits this time on the number of applications one can make. With a cap of 10 filings per applicant this time, the playing field is as wide as it will be in more than a decade.
A bigger 2007 window saw more than 1,300 construction permits approved. It is hard to say how many we’ll see when the 2021 application window opens Nov. 2–9.
Why does the new FCC application period matter? Noncommercial broadcasting has exploded in the last 20 years, more than doubling in number as AM and commercial FM are seeing declines. Every class of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and beyond is looking at Nov. 2–9 with high expectations. For publishers and community media, radio represents a foothold in legacy media that still counts a great deal. For faith-based organizations, radio means connecting with followers. For nonprofits with little previous relationship with media, radio can be a chance to reimagine their missions. And for the communities where stations may be approved, you’re talking about new possibilities for radio’s growth.
If you are interested in being one of those filers later this year, there are many items of interest.
Among the top priorities for filers is the application itself. FCC Form 340 is a very detailed document requiring applicants to present a broad range of technical, infrastructure and public disclosures as a part of the process. From producing proof that your nonprofit organization has the operating capital to run a station; to governance records; to engineering plans for your signal, antenna and more, filing your application will be a time-consuming process. You will want to review the application, select appropriate consultation, and act early to get it done.
You and your engineer will need to do the bulk of the work. It is on the aspiring broadcaster to propose a space that meets at least the minimum requirements and prove you are not stepping on others’ signals. This can be a complicated set of mathematics upon which you will work closely with your engineer.
Larger nonprofits interested in becoming broadcasters may want to get familiar with newer rules or consider retaining an attorney. In 2019, the commission took steps to streamline the application process, but still there are particular requirements of note. These revisions include declarations around governing documents of certain applicants as well as divestiture commitments.
The National Federation of Community Broadcasters last year hosted a primer on the full-power application window opening in November. There will be an updated discussion in July at the Wish You Were Here conference.