Low-Power FM Radio Service

The FCC in January 2000 created two new classes of noncommercial radio stations, referred to as “low-power frequencymodulated (LPFM) radio services.” LPFM radio services are designed to serve very localized communities or underrepresented groups within communities. The LP100 service operates in the power range of 50 to 100 watts and has a service radius of about 3.5 miles.

The LP10 service operates in the power range of 1 to 10 watts and has a service radius of about 1 to 2 miles. In conjunction with the new radio services, the FCC adopted interference protection requirements based on distance separation between stations. This is intended to preserve the integrity of existing FM radio stations and safeguard their ability to transition to digital transmission capabilities.

The FCC put into place minimum distance separations as the best practical means of preventing interference between low-power radio and full-power FM stations. It requires minimum distances between stations using the same or first adjacent channels. However, third adjacent channel and possibly second adjacent channel separations may not be necessary in view of the low power levels of LPFM radio.

Eligible LPFM licensees can be noncommercial government or private educational organizations, associations, or entities; nonprofit entities with educational purposes; or government or nonprofit entities providing local public safety or transportation services. However, LPFM licenses will be awarded throughout the FM radio band and will not be limited to the channels reserved for use by noncommercial educational radio stations.

To further its goals of diversity and creating opportunities for new voices, no existing broadcaster or other media entity can have an ownership interest or enter into any program or operating agreement with any LPFM station. In addition, to encourage locally originated programming, LPFM stations will be prohibited from operating as translators.

To foster local ownership and diversity, during the first 2 years of LPFM license eligibility, licensees will be limited to local entities certifying that they are physically headquartered, have a campus, or have 75 percent of their board members residing within 10 miles of the station they seek to operate. During this time, no entity may own more than one LPFM station in any given community.

After 2 years from the date the first applications are accepted, in order to bring into use whatever low-power stations remain available but unapplied for, applications will be accepted from nonlocal entities. For the first 2 years, no entity will be permitted to operate more than one LPFM station nationwide. After the second year, eligible entities will be able to own up to five stations nationwide, and after 2 more years, up to 10 nationwide.

LPFM stations are licensed for 8-year renewable terms. These licenses are not transferable. Licensees receive fourletter call signs with the letters LP appended. In the event multiple applications are received for the same LPFM license, the FCC will implement a selection process that awards applicants one point each for:

  • Certifying an established community presence of at least 2 years prior to the application.
  • Pledging to operate at least 12 hours daily.
  • Pledging to air at least 8 hours of locally originated programming daily.

If applicants have the same number of points, time-sharing proposals will be used as a tiebreaker. Where ties have not been resolved, a group of up to eight mutually exclusive applicants will be awarded successive license terms of at least 1 year for a total of 8 years. These 8-year licenses will not be renewable.

LPFM stations will be required to broadcast a minimum of 36 hours per week, the same requirement imposed on fullpower noncommercial educational licensees. They will be subject to statutory rules, such as sponsorship identification, political programming, prohibitions of airing obscene or indecent programming, and requirements to provide periodic call sign announcements. They also will be required to participate in the national Emergency Alert System.

According to the FCC, the new LPFM service will enhance community-oriented radio broadcasting. During the proceedings leading up to the new classes of radio service, broad national interest in LPFM service was demonstrated by the thousands of comments received from state and local government entities, religious groups, students, labor unions, community organizations, musicians, and others supporting the introduction of a new LPFM service. The FCC expects that the local nature of the LPFM service, coupled with the eligibility and selection criteria, will ensure that LPFM licensees will meet the needs and interests of their communities.