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New LPFMs: Will It Be Thousands or Hundreds?

While thousands of applications may pour in, it’s hard to peg how many more LPFMs will be licensed.

It’s hard to say exactly how many more low-power radio stations could be licensed if the FCC’s anticipated changes to break the logjam between LPFM and FM translators progresses into new rules as proposed.

Comments on the third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due 30 days after Federal Register publication (Dockets 99-25 and 07-172).

Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle expects “thousands” of LPFM applications to be submitted whenever the commission opens the next filing window. But it’s difficult to know how many of those would survive scrutiny.

(The commission hopes to open the next LPFM application window by summer 2012, though that seems optimistic given that the normal time-frame, from proposal-to-comment-to rulemaking, is typically more than a year. The proposal issued Tuesday represents just a slice of what remains to be decided to implement the Local Community Radio Act into law.)

Doyle told Radio World that unlike the first (and only) LPFM application window in 2001, this time there will be no third-adjacent channel protections. Also, the LCRA requires the commission to establish a second-adjacent-channel waiver procedure, so with both of those combined, “on technical issues, there’s going to be added flexibility” to license LPFMs, he said.

He predicts demand for LPFM licenses will be stronger than 10 years ago because now there’s a “community radio infrastructure that may be able to generate additional interest” in low-power stations. The agency pegs the current number of low-power licenses at 900+. Of those, 290 are in the top 200 markets along with 1,921 FM translators, according to the commission.

But in the end, Doyle says, you just can’t put an exact number on how many more low-power stations will eventually be licensed. “We work on a demand-based system. We open a window and see what comes in.” 

Third Notice of Proposed Rule Making (PDF)