Alaska Class D Stations

EAS: The FCC is asking all broadcast stations to file ETRS Form One by August 27. REC is pushing for 100% LPFM participation. If you need help, please let us know. Filing services available for all three ETRS Forms. Retain REC now! 1-844-REC-LPFM. Participation is mandatory whether you do it yourself or we do it..

Normally, the FCC solicits applications for new broadcast stations during “windows” that are normally about once every 10 years.  The last window for new broadcast stations was the Low Power FM (LPFM) window in 2013.  In that window, about 2000 LPFM construction permits were awarded.  There is one place though that the window is not closed.  In Alaska.

Prior to 1978, the FCC had a Class D FM broadcast service that was available for noncommercial educational broadcasters.  The Class D service was used primarily by high schools and colleges for student operated radio stations.  At that time, Class D stations were allowed to operate 10 watts from the transmitter (TPO).  They were allowed to use a gain antenna to increase their effective radiated power (ERP) for slightly wider coverage.

The large broadcast stations considered the Class D stations to be a hinderance to the growth of the larger stations as well as the cause of interference.  As a result, the FCC would make changes to the Class D service including changing the power limit to 99 watts ERP (based on 30 meters height above average terrain).  They also made the stations secondary status thus meaning that they could be displaced by full power stations.  As a result, Class D stations in more urban areas would be forced to occasionally change channels if they want to stay on the air.  There are currently about 50 Class D FM stations in the lower-48.  Finally, the FCC put a freeze on applications for new Class D stations in all but one state, Alaska.

In other words, the FCC is accepting applications right now for new Class D FM stations within Alaska. 

Noncommercial FM broadcast stations are covered in the FCC Rules under Part 73, subpart D.  Additional information applicable to all broadcasters is covered in Part 73, Subpart H.   You may see something like this in the text: [§73.000].  This is a rule section that you can refer to for more information.

Entities eligible for Class D FM stations

Class D FM stations are available only to qualified noncommercial educational organizations.  What the FCC is looking for is a minimum of a state recognition of your organization as an incorporated entity. The organization is not required to have an IRS 501(c) status.  If your organization is an unincorporated association, the process is a bit more complex.  It is strongly suggested that you register with the Alaska Division of Corporations or a similar agency in another state. 

Individuals, for-profit and public benefit corporations are not qualified as a noncommercial educational (NCE) organization.

Despite the word “educational”, an NCE does not have to be a school or university. There are many churches, ministries, service organizations, local governments, tribal governments and organizations formed for the sole purpose of running the station that are FCC NCE licensees.

The only requirement is that your organization has an educational purpose and the radio station must be used to advance that educational purpose.  Those organizations that currently do not hold a license or construction permit for a broadcast station that originates programming will be required on their first application to demonstrate that the organization is qualified and that the proposed broadcast station will advance the organizations educational purpose. [§73.503(a)].

Please note that if the organization seeking a Class D station currently holds a Low Power FM (LPFM) broadcast license or permit, they must divest that LPFM station prior to turning on the Class D FM station.  If one of more board members are also on the board of an organization holding an LPFM license, the applicant must disclose that and agree that the board member will recuse themselves from decisions made about the LPFM station.  [§73.858]

Organizations that already have a full-power NCE or other Class D NCE licenses or permits may own a Class D station.  If anything, the process for an existing organization with another NCE station (except translator) is a bit easier since the educational qualifications of the station has already been established.

Educational programming and acknowledgement of donors

Programming on the station is not required to be the traditional definition “educational” (i.e. distance learning). Music, cultural programming, speech-based programming and religious teaching are considered as “educational”.  The main restriction is around commercial advertising.  This is a hot button item with the FCC and there are no specific written rules on the subject. Only policy statements.  A Class D station cannot run commercials, but they can acknowledge donors and underwriters to the station. 

What we have always suggested is that you start with a business card (i.e. name and phone number) and work your way up from there.  The main things to avoid with underwriting acknowledgements are calls to action (verbs that encourage or incite a listener to take action, i.e. “come on down to...”, “call them today”), quantitative statements (i.e. “the largest”, “the oldest”, “the cheapest”, etc.), qualitative statements (i.e. “the best” and other adjectives to describe the quality of a product or service), promotional messages and suggestions (“you really want to do this”) and prices (this also includes if an item is free, a certain percentage off as well as interest rates).  There is more leeway if the organization being acknowledged is an IRS 501(c) non-profit or is the license itself.

Third-party fundraising

Normally, fundraising for the station is limited to supporting the station itself.  The FCC does allow the interruption of programming for fundraising for other organizations.  The station can devote up to 1% of time per year for third-party fundraising and certain reporting has to be kept.  The FCC may also, at times following major disasters allow NCE stations to raise funds for particular organizations. 

Coverage areas

The FCC rules permit a Class D station to operate up to 99 watts at 100 feet (30 meters) above average terrain.  If the average terrain at the antenna site (including the height of the antenna on the tower) exceeds 30 meters, then the 99-watt power will be reduced to compensate.  On perfectly flat land at 100 feet, the average coverage area is about 3 ½ miles.  Because many villages and communities in Alaska are in canyons and valleys with significant mountains on one or more sides, your average height will be low.  In some cases going to a “foothill” location will gain some additional coverage.

Channels (frequencies) available for Class D stations.

All frequencies/channels from 88.1 to 107.9 FM are available to Class D stations.  We suggest that Class D stations use the channels between 88.1 and 91.9 as those channels are reserved for non-commercial educational broadcast stations. 

In most parts of Alaska, there is a wide availability of channels.  First, write down all of the FM channel frequencies.  For this, we will stick with the reserved channels.
88.1 88.3 88.5 88.7 88.9 89.1 89.3 89.5 89.7 89.9 90.1 90.3 90.5 90.7 90.9 91.1 91.3 91.5 91.7 91.9

First, find out if there are any existing FM stations in that community.  You can scan the dial or check a website like fccdata.org to see all of the FM stations available.  If a channel is in use, then you will want to cross out that channel and the three additional channels around it each way.  Therefore, you could be scratching out up to 7 channels.  Let’s say that 88.7 is currently being used in this area. You will then want to scratch out the channels from 88.1 to 89.3. 
88.1 88.3 88.5 88.7 88.9 89.1 89.3 89.5 89.7 89.9 90.1 90.3 90.5 90.7 90.9 91.1 91.3 91.5 91.7 91.9

Once you scratch out all of the channels for the FM stations that are in that area, use an FM radio with a digital tuner to check out the other frequencies.  Test this from a table radio from areas where you are expecting the station to cover.  Also, test it from a vehicle located at several parts of your service area.  Make a note if you are hearing a station, even if it coming in with a lot of static. 

The FCC has a formula for determining protections to other stations. These protections are primarily around the co-channel and up to three adjacent channels.  Even despite these protections, most of Alaska has very wide-open spectrum availability so even if there is a channel where there is a weak station or even a station that is listed within about 200 miles but not heard, there’s still many opportunities to maximize the coverage free of potential interference from other stations.

Availability in Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula

Due to the higher concentration of existing stations in Anchorage, finding an available frequency will be challenging and there may be some areas where there is no availability.  Areas on the Kenai Peninsula (e.g. Soldotna, Sterling, Homer, etc.) may have more limited availability, but it may be possible.  Please check with REC for assistance.

Public Notice Requirements

The FCC requires that public notice be given for most application types (including new stations).  The public notice normally takes the form of a classified ad that would appear in a daily newspaper (twice a week for two weeks) or if there is no daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper (once every week for three weeks).  If there is no daily or weekly paper published in that community, in the daily paper wherever published with the greatest circulation in that community. [§73.3580(c)] In the case of Alaskan villages, it may be likely that there is no newspaper. In those cases, we may need to ask for a waiver of the public notice rules and instead offer to place the public notice in a post office or other public place [§73.3580(g)].

Identifying the site

The site must be identified and the geographic coordinates determined.  For coordinates, the FCC uses the older North American Datum 1927 (NAD27).  This will mean that coordinates received from a GPS unit or from Google Maps/Google Earth would have to be converted from the “NAD83” value that those devices use to NAD27.  Both REC and NOAA provide web tools that can do those conversions.

You will also need to determine the overall height of the tower.  This is the height from ground level, even if the tower structure is on top of a building.   The radiation center of the antenna will also need to be calculated.  Most FM broadcast antennas are side mounted, and therefore the center of radiation would be lower than the overall height of the tower.  Once granted, you will have a tolerance of building at that height or within 2 meters above to 4 meters below the authorized radiation center height. 

The FCC rules do not permit vertical polarized antennas in the Class D service. [§73.316]  Therefore, antennas such as ground planes and the Norwalk Dominator cannot be used.  Antennas must be horizontally or circularly polarized. 

Site selection and airports

Any site selected must be evaluated to assure that antenna structure registration (ASR) is not required.  The ASR process notifies the FAA of an antenna that may be located near an airport and could be a hazard to navigation.  Any proposed antenna structure within 5 miles of an airport runway is evaluated based on the glide slope method to determine if the antenna will require registration.  Antenna structures further away from the airport can go higher vs. those closer to the airport.  All structures that exceed 200 feet above ground level require registration, regardless of their location in respect to an airport.  Even near airports, any antenna structure that is less than 20 feet above the highest point of a building (that is not already an antenna structure) is exempt from the antenna structure registration requirement.

REC can determine if structure registration is required.

U.S. Anti-Drug Abuse Act, adverse findings and character issues

The FCC has certain expectations regarding board members (i.e. parties to the application). The US Anti-Drug Abuse Act (21 USC §862) denies certain federal benefits to those convicted of federal drug offenses for a certain period of time.  This is the same law that denies those with drug convictions of being able to receive a student loan. Any time that you file an application with the FCC, including renewals, you will have to certify that all members of your board are not being denied federal benefits under the US Anti Drug Act.

The FCC also requires certification that the applicant or a party to the application must certify that they were not involved in any previous FCC proceeding where character issues have been raised or there is another pending application where character issues have been raised.  This mainly stems around making misleading statements with the FCC.  The FCC may make a determination of a lack of candor or character issues and require a person that if they file any future applications, they must disclose the character issues.

Applicants must also disclose that there is no adverse findings or pending cases of any board member that involves any kind of felony, mass-media related antitrust or unfair competition, fraudulent statements to another government agency or discrimination.  A felony conviction properly disclosed in the application process does not always exclude an applicant, but it will put the application under a deeper review process.

The construction permit application process

Before construction can take place, the broadcast station must have a granted construction permit.  This is done on FCC Form 301.  On the Form 301, include all of the necessary information about your organization including the educational statement (if this is your first non-translator station) and we include all of the technical information regarding the proposed station.  Once filed, the FCC will make an initial review of the application.  The application is then put on a 30-day public notice.  For the next 30 days from that public notice, any member of the local community can file a Petition to Deny to state why your organization should not be granted a license.  Once your application makes it through that 30-day period, the application is further checked by the FCC staff for technical compliance and then a construction permit is granted.

Once an application is granted, construction may begin.  Permittees have 36 months to complete construction of the facility.  This normally cannot be extended except in the event of a widespread natural disaster.   Note: The FCC has determined in a previous case that while new tower construction cannot take place prior to the grant of a construction permit, applicants may set tower footings prior to the grant.  This is helpful in places where the ground hardens in the winter.

Modification of the construction permit

Sometimes, things change. You may need to move to a different location or a different height. You may request a modification of your construction permit as long as the new facility meets certain standards.  You can usually easily request a height change.  The height chosen may impact your station’s effective radiated power.  Also, if it is proposed to increase the overall height of a tower, then a check will need to be done to determine if structure registration will be required.  If the tower is already registered, then the registration will have to be modified.  Moves can be made within where the “service contour” of the old and new location have some form of overlap. In general, that move could be up to 7 miles. The channel (frequency) can be changed up or down 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 10.6  or 10.8 MHz as long as it can be shown that the new channel meets all interference guidelines.  Modifying a construction permit does not extend the expiration date.  It’s still 36 months from the original grant.

Determining transmitter power output (TPO)

The FCC determines a station’s power level based on “effective radiated power” or ERP.  ERP is the power that is actually radiated at the antenna.  Between the transmitter and the antenna, there will be “loss” of the signal based on the length and type of feedline (coax cable) used and any other devices between the transmitter and antenna such as lightning arrestors.  The antenna itself may exhibit gain or loss that needs to be considered.   Therefore, the actual power from the transmitter may be a lot higher than the authorized ERP.  This example for an LPFM station authorized 100 watts ERP shows how with a simple single-bay circular polarized antenna, you may need a transmitter output of 280 watts to get 100 watts:

https://recnet.net/images/tpo.png

In places where power consumption may be limited, creative methods using “off-the-shelf” directional antennas could be used as long as the intended community is covered.  These types of antennas exhibit gain and may allow you to run a transmitter output power that is lower than your authorized ERP but still be able to reach your authorized ERP at the antenna.  The calculation of the TPO can be done by REC or any broadcast engineer.  This value will be necessary for the license application.

Obtaining a call sign

Once your construction permit is granted.  You may now go and obtain a call sign.  All stations in Alaska use call letters beginning with “K”.  Unlike LPFM stations, Class D FM stations do not use the “-LP” suffix on the end of the call letters.  The FCC has a call sign reservation tool where you will be able to request an available call sign.  Call signs become official about one week after requesting it.  A list of spare callsigns can be found at:
https://recnet.net/calls

Application for License

Up until now, your station has been on a construction permit and not a “license”.  This gives you permission to construct the station and unless your construction had some specific condition on it, it may also give you “automatic program test authority” where you can actually start operating the station. 

When you have completed construction of your station and you have obtained a call sign, you may now file your license application.  This is done on FCC Form 302-FM.  On this form, you will make some certifications including the Anti-Drug Abuse Act certification.  You will also include the technical information about the final construction including the TPO value that we determined above.  If there were any specific conditions on the construction permit that requires an exhibit, those exhibits are included in the license application.  This may happen if the FM station is close to an AM station or if certain types of directional antennas are used. 

When you file the license application, there is no specified waiting period but it is an opportunity for any other station who claims that their station is being interfered with or with other reasons to object to the license application can make that argument at that time through an Informal Objection.  They cannot object to the qualifications of the licensee unless there was a substantial circumstance that changed between the time of the grant of the construction permit and the license. 

Once your license application is granted, you are fully licensed and you are no longer under the three year deadline. 

Ownership Reports

Within 30 days of the grant of the license application, an ownership report must be filed using FCC Form 323-E. [§73.3615]  This report shows the information as to all parties to the organization (i.e. board members, etc.)  Each individual is required to obtain a FCC Registration Number (FRN) similar to what we talked about earlier for the organization itself.  Ownership reports will also be filed will be filed by December 1 on all odd-numbered years.  They are also filed when the licensee makes changes to the board members that also requires the filing of either FCC Forms 314, 315 or 316 for a transfer of control.    FCC Form 323-E is filed in the FCC’s LMS system which is currently used mainly for television instead of CDBS, which is mainly used for radio. 

Public File

All broadcast stations (except LPFM) are required to maintain a public file.  Due to changes in the rules, Class D stations must now place their public file online at the FCC’s Public File website.  Stations must place a link to their station’s information at the FCC Public File website from their station’s home page.  Note: Prior to the licensing of the station, §73.3527(b)(1) states that a paper version of the public file must be placed in an accessible place in the proposed community of license.  For Alaska, that could be a location such as a post office, an office used by a VPSO, a local church, etc. Once the station is licensed, the physical public file can be removed and placed online.

For information what items should be in the public file, please read the rule §73.3527:
https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/73.3527

License renewals

All broadcast licenses in Alaska will expire on February 1, 2022. Broadcast licenses are normally for an 8-year term however the initial broadcast license will be shorter and will expire on February 1, 2022.   The license renewal process will start in October, 2021 where announcements must be made over the air to advise of the license renewal process.  The actual renewal Form 303-S must be filed on by December 1, 2021.  On-air messages will run until February, 2022.  Once renewed, this process will repeat again every 8 years.

If you are ready to move forward

REC provides many services to organizations seeking to construct one or more Class D FM stations in Alaska as well as to make changes to existing FM stations of any class.  Please contact REC at 1-844-REC-LPFM or 202 621-2355.  Despite our east coast location, REC maintains “west coast hours” that are more Alaska friendly.  We hope to hear from you soon!

Michelle Bradley
REC Networks
11541 Riverton Wharf Rd
Mardela Springs MD 21837
1-844-REC-LPFM
+1 (202) 621-2355

NOTE: The information presented should not be construed as legal advice and is subject to change.  REC is not liable for inaccuracies in this fact sheet.  For legal advice, please contact a an attorney qualified in communications law.