FCC commissioners got an update Friday on the status of low-power FM applications, six months after the closing of the most recent LPFM application window. The FCC received 2,826 applications for low-power stations during the window, which ran from Oct. 17 to Nov. 15, 2013. As of April, FCC staff had granted permits to more than 1,200 of those applicants.
The FCC has set a new deadline for applicants seeking licenses for low-power FM stations, agreeing to keep its filing window open until 6 p.m. Nov. 14. After the federal government resumed operations last week, several organizations that assist low-power FM radio stations appealed to the commission to extend its window for accepting LPFM applications. They sought to adjust the time frame to accommodate aspiring licensees who had been hindered in preparing their applications by the government shutdown. The FCC initially planned to accept LPFM applications Oct.
The FCC adopted new rules today regarding low-power FM stations, paving the way to accept a wave of applications for new LPFMs in October 2013. Under the rules, the FCC will allow LPFMs on second-adjacent frequencies to full-power FM stations if the low-power applicant provides evidence that the new station will not cause interference. These second-adjacency waivers will allow for more low-power stations in big cities where the FM band is more crowded. Other provisions of the Report and Order adopted today include:
A modified point system that will give an edge to Native applicants and to LPFMs with a staffed main studio and local programming;
Permission of cross-ownership of an LPFM station and up to two translator stations;
And an allowance for tribal nations to operate more than one LPFM. The Prometheus Radio Project, which advocates for low-power radio, estimates that the number of LPFMs in America could double or triple after the next filing window.
Chicago Public Media is paying $450,000 to buy Radio Arte, a low-power station programmed by and for Latino youth and operated by the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. CPM also plans to buy programming from Radio Arte to add to its Vocalo service. “This is a natural partnership,” said Silvia Rivera, Vocalo’s managing director, whose career in public media began in 1998 after taking part in Radio Arte’s media training program. “This partnership between two youth-driven public radio stations builds on a collaborative history and their complementary community missions,” the new partners said in a June 22 press release. CPM will also sponsor museum activities and events as part of the arrangement.
The FCC took another step March 19 toward licensing more low-power FM stations, a move long advocated by community radio leaders. The agency will work through a backlog of thousands of applications for FM translators under a new system that it formally adopted, modifying a proposal floated last summer (Current, July 25, 2011). The pending translator apps must be processed before any new LPFM licenses can be awarded. The commission will toss out FM translator apps in larger markets to make way for LPFMs in those areas while continuing to process requests for translators in less-populous areas. Applicants can seek no more than 50 translator licenses nationwide, a new limitation cracking down on speculative filings seen in the past (Current, March 28, 2005).
NPR, the National Association of Broadcasters and advocates for low-power radio expressed opposing views to the FCC in a proceeding that will shape the future of the commission’s expanding class of low-power FM broadcasters. For the second time since it created the LPFM service in 2000, the FCC has been preparing to accept another round of applications from would-be LPFM operators. In March the commission asked broadcasters and other stakeholders to comment on changes that it may implement before granting the next wave of low-power licenses. The licenses go strictly to noncommercial operators, and so far have permitted stations of only up to 100 watts. This time the stakes are particularly high for LPFM hopefuls, as the commission expects all available LPFM frequencies may be exhausted in the next application window.
Applicants for thousands of FM translators may have to reapply if the FCC goes through with its proposal to give new low-power FM stations a chance to compete for the same frequencies. In a July 12 Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FCC asked for public feedback on a proposal to resolve a years-old backlog of applications for FM translators — low-power stations that relay the signals of full-power FM stations. The commission began a long hiatus from granting translator licenses in 2005 due to concerns that the new relay transmitters could crowd out potential LPFMs, a newer category of 100-watt noncommercial FMs introduced to originate programming. Like earlier struggles over LPFM rules, these policy decisions pit existing stations — including public stations trying to extend service using translators — against the commission’s plan for bringing new community voices to radio. FCC rules give LPFMs and translators equal standing for interference protection; both are secondary to full-power FM stations.