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FCC Station Counts: 2015 vs. 2005

Why the number 23,256 is relevant to our business

We’re spectrum geeks here at Radio World so we always have fun with the trivia question, “How many broadcast stations are there in the United States?”

Longtime readers know the reply should be, “Depends on how you define it.” But here are several ways you can answer when the question comes up at your next scintillating cocktail party.

According to the freshest FCC report, there were 31,013 licensed broadcast stations as of Sept. 30, 2015. That includes AM radio stations; FM commercial and educational radio stations; UHF and VHF commercial and educational TV; Class A UHF and VHF; FM translators and boosters; UHF and VHF translators; UHF and VHF low-power TV; and low-power FM.

A more common question among our readers is, “How many radio stations are there in the United States?” But again, it depends. Using the “traditional” definition of AMs and full-power FMs, the number is now 15,470. Add in low-power FMs though and the count is 16,834. Roll in FM translators and boosters too, and now you’re at 23,256. (And the FCC doesn’t report digital radio multicast channels, which as seen on car displays are essentially separate radio stations.)

We also enjoy seeing how these numbers change over time. The Radio World research department has dug into the FCC archives today and unearthed the numbers from a decade ago; they’re listed in the second column in the chart below, which dramatically captures trends in license totals such as an explosion in the number of translators (up 64% over 10 years); the growth of FM educational (56%) and the expansion of LPFM, as well as big changes over on the TV side of the biz.