Low Power FM stations are coming to urban America

A lot of new Low Power FM radio stations is going to start emerging from October in larger U.S. cities. The Federal Communications Commission will after a decade of studies and lobbying finally begin giving licenses to Low Power FM in urban areas. Applicants have to send their applications to the FCC between October 15 and October 29. LPFM was originally approved by Congress in 2001 only to rural areas because of concerns that these stations would interfere with full-power broadcasters in urban areas.

Illustrative photo, source: http://www.prometheusradio.org/Illustrative photo, source: http://www.prometheusradio.org/

Low-powered FM are community radio stations. There is about 800 of them right now in the U.S. and they are broadcasting for around 25,000 people in rural parts of the country. They broadcast at 100 watts or less ranging within a 5-mile radius. Stations have to be locally owned, non-commercial and able to identify an unused frequency in their area. The Commision has no maximum limit on how many licenses it will issue, but community radio advocates expect around 1,000.

There was heavy resistance from commercial broadcasters because they thought it would interfere with their signals. Study from 2003 showed that there is a possibility for Low Power FM stations to go forward across the country. Congress expanded license eligibility through the Local Community Radio Act, which finally passed in 2010. Community radio operators should not hesitate and seize the change - the two-week window in October may be the last chance to get a share of the airwaves. It would be politically challenging to enable the FCC to issue more licenses and there are also technical limitations. The FM dial gets crowded, so it could take quite a while before there will be free frequencies again.

LPFM are ideal for libraries, community theaters, farm worker organizations and worker centers, environmental or social justice organizations, immigrant advocacy organizations, media groups, arts organizations or allready existing online radio stations who want to go on the FM dial.  One of them is G-town Radio and GTownRadio.com from the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Which currently operates as an internet radio station but is prepared to start broadcasting it’s signal. This step can help to get closer to people, who don’t have Internet connection at home and also reach Philadelphia with stories about nearby Germantown they may not know and connect this areas more closely.  

LPFM are in general able to reach many diverse community groups and give voice to a wide array of nonprofit groups and educational institutions. They’re filling in critical political and cultural voids across the country. LPFM stations are also useful in broadcasting hyper-local content that directly addresses news in their communities. Many commercial stations no longer provide local news, which might be problematic in cases of emergency. Another purpose of LPFM is providing news and information to non-English speaking communities in their mother tongues. There's not much local information on the Internet and in the rest of the media in languages other than English.