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FCC Numbers Reflect Growth of FM Over Two Decades

A look at how the numbers compare with 10 and 20 years ago

There are 4,085 more FM stations are on the air in the United States than there were 20 years ago, a growth in licenses of 64% since 1992; and that’s not even including the explosive growth in translators in that time, nor the many hundreds of low-power stations that hold licenses (a category that’s about to grow further).

That is one conclusion to be drawn from a comparison of FCC licensing data. The commission Friday issued its latest tally of licenses, as of the end of December 2012; those numbers are shown in the first column below.

We dug out comparative data from 10 and 20 years ago, and the resulting columns reflect overarching trends in our business. (Our data in the first paragraph are reached by taking the totals of FM commercial and FM educational, and combining them.)

The data tell us little about trends in the number of owners, since many licenses are held by the same entities, as has been well documented over time. But evident here are not only big growth in the number of commercial and educational FM outlets at the end of the 20th century and opening of the 21st, but also a flat or slowly declining base of AM licenses, and the big spike in translators. The numbers for LPFMs and translators will be going up again soon, now that the FCC has issued rules to expand the low-power service and unclog the big backlog in more translator applications.

Percentages are rounded; all numbers are based on FCC data as of the end of the given year.

CATEGORY 2012 2002 1992 % SINCE ’92 AM STATIONS 4,738 4,804 4,961 (-4%) FM COMMERCIAL 6,598 6,173 4,785 +38% FM EDUCATIONAL 3,860 2,354 1,588 +143% TOTAL 15,196 13,331 11,334 +34% FM TRANSLATORS/BOOSTERS 6,075 3,825 1,954 +211% LOW-POWER FM 809 0 0 ~