The FCC is set to open thousands of low-power FM stations to community organizations this fall. LPFM signals operate at 100 watts and reach about 3.5 miles, according to The Atlantic Cities:
...That may not seem like much, but in urban areas, that could mean meaningful, localized programming for thousands.
Until this point, LPFM stations were effectively banned because they couldn’t occupy frequencies within three clicks of an existing commercial station. The new rules will divvy up new community radio licenses, based on whatever is available on the dial that doesn’t interfere with existing signals.
“The Internet is good at a lot of things, but it hasn’t met a lot of people’s needs for local,” says Brandy Doyle, policy director for the LPFM advocacy group Prometheus Radio Project.* “The community radio station connects them to the place they live.”
That’s what Phoenix resident Francisco Flores is hoping. Flores has been preparing an application for a radio license for the non-profit Coalition Phoenix, looking at technical details like where to place a signal. Flores expects his station to be educational, especially for those in Phoenix who don’t rely on the Internet, informing them about issues like health, immigration and general news.
“Radio is immediate,” he says. “For us it is a way to reach the mother of the family or the father who is working or for the people who are out and about in the city who are doing their thing.”
LPFMs are the legal successor to pirate radio stations, broadcasts that saw their programming as a source of diversity and social justice that wider media options didn’t provide. In 2000, the FCC began offering LPFM licenses as an alternative specifically to noncommercial organizations. But under pressure from commercial radio, federal regulations limited where these stations could take root.
Prometheus has advocated for expanding LPFM since 1998 and was instrumental in helping pass the Local Community Radio Act, enacted in January 2011. The organization has helped prospective station operators through all the aspects of applying for and establishing a radio signal, from how to develop content to how to pinpoint the right place in the city for an antenna. Its staff says it has fielded calls from over 3,000 individuals who are interested in a community radio license and says overall interest may be multiples higher than that nationwide.
“These community stations counter all of those negative effects that occurred with the centralization of radio program,” says Shawn Campbell, general manager of the Chicago Independent Radio Project, which currently streams its local music broadcast online. “It will get people talking about local issues, local music and not just the mainstream. What it really does is restore radio’s strengths.”