This is the latest edition of Dan Slentz’s quest to start an LPFM radio station.
Wednesday, Jan. 15th, was a banner day for a group of LPFM applicants (myself included). The FCC granted a large group of applicants their official construction permits. This means “the clock is ticking” with 18 months to build, license, and launch their LPFMs.
For me, this journey started over 30 years ago when I, as just a kid, dreamed of starting my own radio station (as is the case with many LPFM applicants). But as the tides of ownership changed from mom & pop stations to group owners, the price of purchasing a station or bidding on a commercial CP went above the means of most people, the dream of owning a station quickly started vanishing. Now being a part of an LPFM (not “owning” since no individuals can actually “own” a station as they must be part of a nonprofit organization) has become a reality.
So what’s next? Well, now is the part where the boards and members of these nonprofit organizations must really start beating the pavement to bring in the capital needed to build their stations. Also, the flood of “junk email” has started with many people offering to supply gear. One mail indicated that you could do everything for about $5k.
I highly doubt this is the right way to build an LPFM as just the EAS/CAP gear, transmitter and antenna system will likely ring up past that amount. I’d suggest any CP holder be very prudent in who they turn to for assistance. The promise of launching a station “for cheap” comes with many strings attached!
First and foremost is the responsibility to be LEGAL with type-accepted and approved gear. Taking shortcuts will certainly cost you not only in downtime (off-the-air), but respectability to your audience (you WANT to sound like a commercial broadcaster and NOT someone with a bad pirate station), and certainly you’ve gone through the effort to become a real-life broadcaster so don’t start cutting corners just to get sound on the air.
I’d recommend reading everything you can (the recently published Radio World LPFM eBook is a great beginning) and seek help from experienced professionals. This should include engineers who’ve worked in radio broadcasting to broadcast equipment manufacturers and sales people who can guide you through this journey. A good sales person (representing a long-standing broadcast equipment sales organization) will give you options and explain the benefits and disadvantages of certain equipment choices. The old adage “you get what you pay for” will ring true over and over.
At this point, CP holders can now apply for their call letters through the FCC’s call letter registration system. This will help you start to build your identity and help build knowledge (and hopefully financial support) for your station. Look for local grants and nonprofits with an interest in helping you see your station built. National funds are very hard to find, and the people who will truly benefit from your efforts will be within “transmitting distance.”
As for the cost, I content that the low side would be $15k to $20k. Yes, you can build it for less, but to build an audience base you need to sound good (professional) along with being on the air consistently. Your station transmitter shouldn’t be “on a light switch” — that is, turning it on and off on a whim. It should be there (like a full-power station) whenever a listener is tuning you in. Having broken gear or just turning it on and off whenever you need will certainly not build an audience and will eventually erode the people who may like what they hear. You don’t want your only listeners to be yourself, board and your volunteers but a larger audience (hence the reason it’s called BROADcasting).
As for our CP in Dover/New Philadelphia, Ohio, I’m budgeting $50k as a start-up. Why? Because I want this station to be on-the-air and rock-solid for many years. I want it to be quality-competitive with full-power stations. I also recognize that the industry is evolving and digital quality is not a luxury but a necessity for an audience who now actually recognizes the difference.
In addition, if the funds can be generated, I’m hoping to launch this new LPFM as an HD Radio station. I estimate the additional cost to do this will be up to $25k more, but I feel that this is certainly a great potential in a market where HD FM really doesn’t exist yet many new cars have this ability (and HD is still growing). It’s my hope that this station can provide a training ground to the future of radio and not the past. Streaming, digital FM, ancillary data to listeners and supplying a “backwards-compatible” signal (analog FM) are all important considerations. And, to make things more challenging, the station and equipment need to be “beginner-proof,” dependable, produce high-quality audio, and a “real-life” experience that can carry the next generation of broadcasters into the real world of radio and its future!
Yes, these are very high goals and high hopes, but like anything you do, you want to do it right and to the best of your ability (and financial means). Is it likely I may have to downsize? Very likely, but with a great board and members, we may be able to meet many of these goals.