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FM Signal Count Grew 38% in Ten Years

FCC releases latest station totals; LPFMs boom, while AM numbers are down slightly again

How many FM signals are there in the United States? Answer: 18,735.

Here are updated numbers to consider in the conversation over use of the spectrum.

At the end of 2015, according to the Federal Communications Commission, there were 6,701 commercial FM licenses, 4,095 educational FMs, 6,506 FM translators and boosters, and 1,433 low-power FM stations. That adds up to 18,735.

Ten years ago, those categories totaled 13,573; so by our reckoning, that’s an increase in the gross number of U.S. FM signals over a decade of 38% — or more than 5,000 more signals than occupied the band in 2005.

Not all signals are created equal, of course, in power, reach or impact; so when you are assessing questions like market competition or technical interference, you cannot use that number in isolation.

For one thing, while all FM categories saw growth — both last year and over 10 years — the greatest increases by percentage over the decade have come in educational FM, translators and LPFMs (as we explored in more depth with a recent chart of 10-year data using the previous quarter’s numbers). The raw total of licenses does not tell the whole story.

Still, the number of FM signals is expected to continue to grow, given recent LPFM expansion and the recent FCC plan that includes two windows, beginning next year, during which AM owners will be able to apply via auction for FM translators.

Meanwhile the number of stations on the AM band declined again slightly in 2015. The FCC counts 4,684 licensed AM stations as of Dec. 31, down from 4,705 at the end of 2014, 4,727 the year before, and 4,738 the year before that. While these percentage drops are small, they run counter to the trends in the other categories, and come in the context of industry debate over the future of the band and FCC efforts to “revitalize” it.

Also notable: the number of LPFMs is now at 1,433 licenses, almost double the 776 of just two years ago, as the commission effort to expand the low-power service has kicked into high gear.

Below is the full FCC report as of the end of 2015.

“Will FM Band Grow More Congested?”