II. Background

3. The Commission has sought initial comment on two petitions for rule making requesting the creation of one or more low power radio services. 2 These petitions were filed by J. Rodger Skinner ("Skinner") (RM-9242) and by Nickolaus Leggett, Judith Leggett, and Donald Schellhardt (collectively, "Leggett") (RM 9208).3 The petitioners state that low power FM would "provide the opportunity for individual citizens and small groups of citizens to operate radio broadcast services,"4 and "will allow ... people of limited financial means to have a voice in broadcasting in America," envisioning stations owned by area residents and programming focusing on a diverse array of local issues.5

A. The Petitions

4. The Skinner Petition. Skinner proposes the creation of three classes of LPFM service: (1) a "primary" service class with effective radiated power ("ERP") levels from 50 watts to 3 kW for antenna heights above average terrain ("HAAT") up to 100 meters (328 feet), (2) a "secondary" service class with ERP levels up to 50 watts for HAAT values up to 46 meters (150 feet), and (3) a "special event" service up to 20 watts ERP, for which authorizations would be issued for periods not to exceed ten days.6

5. Petitioner avers that primary LPFM stations would meet a need for locally owned "structured" stations that would be responsive to local interests. With the proposed power limits, stations could serve most communities and also clusters of communities and portions of large metropolitan areas. Stations would be authorized on the basis of signal contour interference protection to full power radio and other primary LPFM stations and would not be confined to use of channels in the FM Table of Allotments. Primary LPFM stations would be required to meet the existing desired-to-undesired signal strength ratios at the protected contours of co-channel and first-adjacent channel radio stations of all primary FM classes (20 dB and 6 dB, respectively).7 The LPFM stations' 60 dBu signal contour, extending out to a maximum of about 24 kilometers (15 miles), would be protected against interference from all classes of FM stations. LPFM licensees would be subject to the "vast majority" of the Part 73 rules applicable to full power FM stations.8 Station ownership would be restricted to parties living within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the LPFM antenna site. There would be a limit of three LPFM stations per owner and no party could own more than three stations in a single metropolitan statistical area.

6. Skinner proposes a second LPFM station class for community radio on a smaller scale, with power levels between 1 and 50 watts ERP for antenna heights up to 46 meters (150 feet) HAAT, 9 producing a coverage radius of five miles or less. Stations in this class would operate on a "secondary" frequency use basis and would be intended to serve very small communities or very small areas within larger communities. Petitioner envisions that such stations would often be operated by community volunteers, who would offer a variety of programs and viewpoints by area residents and that these stations could be started at a minimal cost. Petitioner proposes this as an "interim" class, in that it may be less costly to start a station at this level and upgrade to the higher class LPFM station. Licensees of the secondary LPFM class would have to vacate the channel if a full-power FM station became short-spaced due to an antenna site move or power increase, or if a short-spaced application for the higher class LPFM station were filed. In either event, the station owner would have 60 days to submit its own application to upgrade its facility to the higher LPFM class. This secondary class LPFM station would receive interference protection to its 1 mV/m contour only from other similar stations. These stations would be required to provide contour protection to all higher class FM stations in the manner described above and, evidently, would be subject to the ownership limits proposed for primary LPFM stations.10 However, the secondary LPFM stations would be subject to fewer regulations: e.g., a transmitter certification requirement, prohibitions against obscene language and advertising gambling, and a "minimal schedule of minimum hours of operation per week."11

7. The Leggett Petition. Leggett originally proposed a service limited to one watt of transmitter output power and an antenna height of 50 feet. This "microradio" service would broadcast to very small areas in a cellular arrangement, using a single FM and a single AM channel nationwide, thus limiting the impact on existing radio stations. Petitioner believes such stations would have an appeal for "niche markets" and could establish ties over small areas such as rural towns and urban neighborhoods. 12 However, in response to concerns expressed by many of the commenters, Leggett modified its proposal to suggest a two-tiered system. 13 The first tier would include low power radio facilities designed for a maximum transmission radius of one mile. Second-tier stations would have a maximum transmission radius of five miles. Ownership would be limited to individuals whose primary residence is within 25 miles of the station and very small businesses and non-profit entities with primary headquarters located within 25 miles of the station.14 No licensee would be permitted to own more than five tier-1 or one tier-2 microstations nationwide. Petitioner suggests that microradio stations should be required to operate only a minimum number of hours per year. Licensees would be permitted to build their own transmitters, not subject to Commission approval. Stations would be equipped to enable licensees to monitor the quality of their signal. Licensees would be responsible for proper station operations.

B. Comments

8. Small businesses, community groups, cities, and the hundreds of citizens who commented support the creation of a low power radio service, although not all agree on the parameters of such a service. 15 The petitions are also supported by some small (often AM) broadcasters and by some noncommercial educational radio broadcasters. Petitioners and their supporters argue that consolidation has made radio stations too expensive for most individuals,16 and that because new voices are being priced out of the market, the public is being deprived of diverse, local voices.17 They criticize the loss of certain less profitable formats in their listening areas,18 and they contend that low power radio could serve the needs of small, niche groups, including minority groups (particularly linguistic minorities), that they believe are often ignored by full power stations.19

9. The National Association of Broadcasters ("NAB"), National Public Radio, Inc. ("NPR"), other radio broadcaster organizations,20 and a number of individual licensees oppose the petitions, claiming that existing radio stations are already serving the myriad needs and interests of their communities and must do so in order to remain competitive, thus making low power radio unnecessary.21 According to some of these opponents, the Commission's diversity concerns are more appropriately addressed through the ownership rules than by creating a new service.22 Several opponents of the petitions also take issue with the supporters who decry the effects of consolidation, contending that group ownership can foster important services to listeners because it allows for more efficient operations. NAB adds that there is no indication that the diversity of station formats is decreasing.23 NPR claims that there is no evidence that small geographic areas in fact have sufficiently common programming interests such that the desired niche programming will develop. 24 Finally, a number of opponents of the petitions assert that the range of options for the future development of terrestrial digital radio would be unduly limited by the addition of numerous new facilities operating on the FM band.25


2 Public Notice, Report No. 2254 (February 5, 1998); and Public Notice, Report No. 2261 (March 10, 1998). Other petitions that were filed have been added to the record in this proceeding, have been available for comment, and are considered in this Notice. See, e.g., paragraph 0, below (discussing the proposal in the Community Radio Coalition's petition for rule making that low power radio construction permits not be transferable).

3 Web SportsNet, Inc., later replaced by Gregory D. Deieso ("Deieso"), also submitted a petition which we placed on Public Notice (RM-9246). It proposes the creation of very low power AM or FM "event broadcast stations," which would operate for short periods of time (typically a few days) for the purpose of providing very localized coverage of sporting events or other events to the audience present at the event. A similar service was proposed in part of the Skinner petition. The proposed usage of the facilities and the spectrum rights for such an "event" service are sufficiently different from what is contemplated in establishing an LPFM service in this proceeding, that those issues, and the Deieso petition, are better examined separately from this proceeding. Similarly, the American Community AM Broadcasters Association, Inc. ("ACAMBA") also submitted a petition for rule making, RM-9419, proposing that AM stations be able to use FM translators to fill in their service areas. See Public Notice, DA 98-2527 (December 10, 1998). ACAMBA's proposal is not sufficiently related to our instant goals of increasing broadcast diversity, fostering localism, and expanding opportunities for new entrants for it to be considered in this proceeding.

4 Leggett Petition at 1.

5 Skinner Petition at 3.

6 As stated in note Error! Bookmark not defined., above, issues related to "event" radio broadcasting are not considered in this proceeding.

7 For example, at points along the 60 dBu contour of a Class C station, the field strength of a co-channel LPFM station could not exceed 40 dBu.

8 Skinner Petition at 63. Skinner indicates that further study would be required to identify Part 73 regulations that could be eliminated for LPFM primary stations.

9 Id. at 10. On one instance in his original petition, Skinner had erroneously given an inconsistent height. Id. at 12. However, he subsequently corrected the inconsistency. Skinner Comments (to Skinner Petition) at 1.

10 Skinner Petition at 57-59. 11 Id. at 61-62.

12 Leggett Petition at 1.2.

13 Leggett Reply Comments at 30, 75.

14 This proposal would have at least 65% of the station's stock (or other instruments of control) held by entities within the 25-mile radius.

15 Some parties addressed the issue by submitting their own petitions for rule making. We are considering such proposals as comments in this proceeding.

16 A number of these commenters assert that the First Amendment guarantees individuals the right to operate a radio station. They raise no arguments or legal analysis, however, to counter our repeated rejection of this premise, and we will not further discuss it in this Notice.

17 E.g., Representative David E. Bonior Comments at 1-2 (asserting that diverse voices are being priced out of the market); Thomas Acey Reply Comments at 1 (claiming that Newark, New Jersey, stations gave little coverage to local elections held in May, 1998).

18 E.g., Thomas Desmond Reply Comments at 5-6 (complaining that Philadelphia and Detroit listeners have recently lost their only classical music stations).

19 E.g., Rosalia Aguilar Comments; Azucena Salazar Comments; Aida Guerrero Comments (stating that Hispanics in the Kansas City, Missouri, area are not served by Spanish-language radio stations); and Baltimore Jewish Radio Comments (expressing an interest in broadcasting otherwise locally unavailable 12 ethnic music and language classes, and stating that purchasing time on full power radio stations is prohibitively expensive).

20 E.g., State Broadcasters Associations (43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico) and the Portland Area Radio Council.

21 E.g., NAB Comments at 25-26; Tri County Radio Corporation Comments at 2.

22 ACAMBA Reply Comments at 5; Midwest Dimension Comments at 1. Midwest Dimension is the licensee of stations WPKR(FM), Omro, Wisconsin, and WPCK, Kaukauna, Wisconsin.

23 NAB Comments at 25-26.

24 NPR Statement at 9.

25 E.g., NAB Comments at 13-25; NPR Statement at 7; and Greater Media, Inc. Comments at 5.