Local Community FM Station?

Kai -- August 15th, 2007

For one week in October, the FCC is opening up the registration process to community groups for free full power FM radio bandwidth. The idea is to give local citizen groups a chance to be heard using the same tools available to the big media (e.g. Clear channel). Big city markets don’t have any available bandwidth – but places like Harrisonburg do. DemocracyNow! dubs this a “once in a life-time opportunity“. What could such a station look like in Harrisonburg? I’m exploring it more myself, but would need a team to come together quickly. Is anyone else looking into this locally?

There is a coalition that supports the application process, RadioforPeople.org. The process needs a communications lawyer and an engineer to put in some work prior to the registration time. The estimated cost for the registration is $5-7,000. Setting up a station can cost $20,000-150,000, and wouldn’t happen for a couple years (if approved). Applicants must be community groups who’ve existed at least a couple years. Thoughts? Ideas?

17 Responses to “Local Community FM Station?”

  1. finnegan says:

    Sounds very interesting. I’d be interested in exploring the options and at least discussing it.

    The trouble with radio (as I see it) is that so many people are listening to iPods and XM or Sirius these days, that it’s hard to imagine starting a radio station (just as it would be hard to imagine starting a new printed daily paper in town now). But like I said, I’m interested in finding out more about it.

    When I was living in Austin, some anarchists had an underground radio station called KAOS that was very hit-or-miss, but always interesting for at least a minute or two.

  2. Dave Briggman says:

    These are “full power” stations and not the LPFM stations which aren’t meant for operation by non-profits? I’d be interested.

  3. Kai says:

    I hear you finnegan. At the same time, there will be people for decades still listening to the radio, especially in rural areas. I fully agree, though, that a station like this would need to be completely on the ball with wrapping their programming with Web 2.0 technology – podcast everything. I could actually see a real synergy: let citizens upload their own podcasts which could become programming on the radio.
    The ideas can really become exciting when the radio is simply an added tool for outreach, along with the podcasts/webcasts. If we could get an “owner group” that would really, truly be citizen driven and open to different perspectives, the station could have a real impact. People like Dave Miller with ideas for debates for local elections would have a place here. Maybe there’s a “bloggers come to life” segment, where we highlight what the topics have been on the (worthwhile) blogs. Who knows…
    If we play local music to fill the programming a bit, we wouldn’t need to pay the exorbitant license fees.
    With constant locally relevant information, the station could find a real niche – like hburgnews.
    It’s somewhere between a “WXJM for grown ups” and the local NPR stations.

  4. Kai says:

    Dave – it’s bandwidth between like 88.1 and 91.9 or something, and it is bandwidth reserved for “educational” content. You can still have stations between 10 and 100 megawatts at these frequencies.

  5. Peter says:

    This sounds awesome. I’m interested. Local news with a brain? Local music…We could be like WXJM used to be.

  6. Dave Briggman says:

    This is the FCC page on LPFMs…these are not full power stations, but limited to 100 watts.


  7. Dave Briggman says:

    Looks like there’s only one is Virginia:

    WKJV-LP 263 L1 FL 100.5 MHz APP BRISTOL VA US BPL-20070622ABA – 126574 0.036 kW 49.4 m 559. m 29. m N 36 36 25.00 W 82 12 15.00 – BELLE MEADOWS BAPTIST CHURCH

  8. Kai says:

    Here’s the FAQ from http://www.radioforpeople.org – long, but interesting:

    What’s Going On???
    This October, from the 12th through the 19th, the FCC will open a window to apply for new, full power non-commercial educational (NCE) radio frequencies. If you want to apply for a non-commercial radio station, this is your one chance for any foreseeable future.

    What Kind Of Radio Stations Are We Talking About?
    The eligible channels that will be allocated in this window are designated as non-commercial educational (NCE) stations. Most are located between 88.1 MHz and 91.9 MHz on the FM dial. But there are also a few commercial channels specifically reserved for NCE use, and you can apply for these as well.

    Are We Talking About Full Power Or Low Power Station?
    These will be full power stations. Full power stations can be any power, between 100 watts up to the 100,000 watts, depending on your location! The actual power level will depend on the geographic coordinates where you propose to put your transmitter and antenna.

    Where Will There Stations Be?
    You can apply for any available non-commercial frequencies in the United States. You can only apply for a frequency (spot on the radio dial) that does not conflict with any existing stations in your geographic region. Finding a frequency will follow current FCC interference rules.

    Frequencies are available primarily in rural areas — there is almost no likelihood of finding a frequency if you are within 20 miles of the 50 largest cities in the United States, and very little chance if you are within 30 miles of the largest 100 cities. But you can still try if you want.

    We have mapped out likely locations and when you contact us we will help you to determine if available frequencies exist in a location that interests you. You can also check a location here based on zip codes.

    Exactly When Will This Happen?
    The filing window will be open from October 12th throught the 19th, 2007. You must file your application during this 7-day window – everything needs to be ready to go – so start preparing now.

    You cannot apply before this window of opportunity, and you cannot apply after – you can only apply while the window is open.

    Non-Commercial Educational (NCE) full power radio licensing has been frozen since 2000, and this will be the first opportunity to apply in more than five years. This will very likely be your only opportunity to apply for a noncommercial radio license.

    Who Can Apply?
    You cannot apply as an individual — the applicant must be an organization with an educational mission. It can be an incorporated group, an Indian tribe, or some other form of nonprofit entity. You do not need 501(c)3 (tax exempt) status to qualify. Your organization’s bylaws must have – or write in – a commitment to have its headquarters within 25 miles of the station’s place of license.

    How Much Does It Cost To Apply?
    There is no application fee at the FCC, since the service is non-commercial. However, to successfully prepare and file an application, you should plan on spending between $2,000 and $5,000 for technical and legal assistance. More funds may be necessary later for legal fees if another group files for the same or conflicting frequencies.

    How Much Does It Cost To Build A Radio Station?
    Depends on what kind of station you want. $20,000 is needed for the bare minimum of a very simple station. More than $50,000 is very possible.

  9. Dave Briggman says:

    Thanks, Kai, I’m in…this sounds cool.

  10. Kai says:

    I just contacted the Nat’l Federation for Community Broadcasters to get an idea of whether there is available frequency in our area. They gave me a password for an online coarse map showing availability. A big red splotch (no availability) comes up the valley from Winchester/DC and stops juuuuust past Harrisonburg. But starting about 4 miles west, south, and east, it’s all green (availability!). The red starts again near Lexington, so about a third of Rockingham and ALL of Augusta is green.

    The NFCB then gave me a person to contact who has more detailed information. I left a message and will keep you posted.

    Looks like we have a chance, we’ll just need to go south a little bit.

  11. republitarian says:

    I’ll help with finances….if I win the Clerk gig.

  12. TM says:

    This sounds great. I’d love to help anyway I can.
    Not to threadjack, but speaking of iPods and radio, I was picking up someone’s iPod FM transmitter on 88.7 (WXJM is still programmed into my buttons during the summer… don’t ask me why I still check it) last night in line to park at the fair. Everything from Hey Jude, to Biggie, to Broadway, to country.

  13. zen says:

    This sounds really cool. I’d be willing to make myself available to help out.

  14. kai says:

    Quick Radio Update: I’ve found out enough information and have received enough interest in this idea to move forward with the next step: hire a sound engineer to do a frequency study, which tells us exactly what frequencies are available in the area. I contacted an agency in NoVA who’s very familiar with this opportunity – and our area. We need a $1000 retainer in the next week, and ultimately about $4000 for the application. I’ll be posting more information about this here and at http://www.OrangeBand.org. Stay tuned!

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