FM Broadcast Filing Window - Low Power FM (LPFM) stations

Filing wIndow:
Original construction permits (and major changes) for Low Power FM (LPFM) broadcast stations.  

Window dates:
Unknown at this time.  Expected to be late 2021 or early 2022.

Basic details:
This window will be for original construction permits as well as for “major” modifications to existing licensed facilities.  In LPFM, a major modification includes a change in channel without the need for a reduced interference study as well as a physical move of over 5.6 kilometers (the maximum distance involved is currently being considered in a pending rulemaking thus meaning that the distance to move without waiting for a major window may be extended). 

Applicant requirements and limitations:
This application window is open to any non-profit organization that is recognized by any state as a not for profit corporation.  Organizations are not required to be an IRS 501(c) status.  The corporate status must be valid on the date of filing and must remain valid.  It is important to assure that the organization maintains their state annual report filings to avoid a lapse.  New organizations must have their corporation documents stamped by the state on a date prior to the date of filing (even if that date is in the middle of the window period).

LPFM applicants may only apply for one facility in the filing window.

Current LPFM licensees:
Existing LPFM licensees may file major change applications in this window.  They will compete alongside new applicants in the event of competing applications. 

Certain changes are allowed as minor changes and do not require a window.  These include:

  • Channel changes to +/- 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 0.8, 10.6 or 10.8 MHz.
  • Changes to any channel if a showing can be made of reduced interference on the new channel.
  • Physical moves of 5.6 km or less.
  • We are anticipating new rules coming soon that will allow moves of over 5.6 km if it can be shown that the 60 dBu service contour of the existing site overlaps the 60 dBu service contour of the proposed site.

Service technical details:
Applicants may propose a facility, which based on the antenna’s height above average terrain (HAAT) would create a facility that would operate between 50 and 100 watts effective radiated power at 30 meters HAAT.

LPFM stations follow a strict distance separation requirement table for proper spacing between the proposed facility and other existing domestic and foreign facilities including other LPFM stations and FM translators.   LPFM stations must meet distance separation in respect to full-service stations and FM translators on co-, first- and second-adjacent channels.  In addition, LPFM stations must also protect foreign FM stations on third-adjacent channel in intermediate frequency (+/- 10.6 and 10.8 MHz) per the charts in the FCC Rules.   

In respect to second-adjacent channel short-spaced domestic full-service and FM translators, a waiver process is in place if it can be demonstrated that any predicted interference from the proposed LPFM station will reach any occupied structure or major 4 lane highway.  Second-(or third-) adjacent channel waivers towards foreign facilities are never allowed.

 We are anticipating at the time when the filing window takes place, LPFM stations will not be required to protect TV and low power TV stations operating on Channel 6. 

Site assurance:
LPFM applicants are required to have “assurance” to use the site that is proposed on the application.  Assurance is not a binding contract but instead is a “meeting of the minds” or otherwise, a general understanding that if the applicant is granted a construction permit, the applicant should be allowed to build at the site.  The FCC will require the name and phone number for a site contact during the application process.

Directional antennas:
Directional antennas may only be used in rare cases where the directional antenna is used in respect to a second adjacent waiver.  We are also anticipating new rules that will allow directional antennas for certain cases within 80 miles of the Mexican border.  Otherwise, all antennas in the LPFM service are authorized as nondirectional.

Antennas may be horizontal, vertical, circular or elliptical polarization.

Community coverage requirements:
There are no specific community coverage or city of license requirements in LPFM.

Competing applications (MX):
Following the window, the FCC will announce which applications are “MX” and will afford an opportunity for applicants to make a change in order to “escape” the MX group. The changes can be “minor” and in some cases, “major”. If remediation is not possible, we move forward to the MX comparative process.

In the event of competing applications, a point system is used to determine who “wins”.

For LPFM applicants, the following points can be earned:

  • Local presence (1 point) – applicant has been established for at least two years prior to filing and either the organization or 75% of the board members are located within 20 miles of the proposed antenna site (10 miles for major media markets 1 through 50).
  • Main studio pledge (1 point) – applicant pledges that if the permit is won on points, they will maintain a publicly accessible main studio that is open at least 20 hours per week.
  • Local programming pledge (1 point) – applicant pledges that if the permit is won on points, they will carry at least 8 hours per day of programming that originated from within 20 miles of the transmitting antenna (10 miles for major media markets 1 through 50).
  • Bonus point (1 point) – A bonus point is given for applicants who can make both the main studio and local programming pledges.
  • Diversity in ownership (1 point) – a point can be claimed if the LPFM station is the applicant’s only media holding.
  • Tribal priority (1 point) – a point can be claimed if the applicant is a tribal enterprise and that the proposed station is located on tribal land.

After the window, all applicants in the same MX group with the same highest number of points will be considered as tentative selectees.  The FCC will open up a 90 day opportunity for all applicants to make minor moves and changes to any channel in order to “escape” the MX group. 

Applicants that are considered tentative selectees will be able to reach a time share agreement and “aggregate” their points to make a stronger proposal.  Up to three groups can aggregate their points for a total of 15.

In the event that no time share agreements are made and there are three or fewer tentative selectees remaining in the group, those groups will be given one more opportunity to reach a time share agreement.  If they don’t reach an agreement, then the Commission will put them into an involuntary time share agreement.  If there are more than three tentative selectee applicants remaining, then the Commission will only grant an involuntary time share to the three groups with the oldest community presence dates. 

If the FCC assigns the hours and no timeshare agreement is met, then licenses will be non-renewable.  To make the licenses renewable, a time share agreement can be reached at any time (even if it is for the same hours).

If an applicant wins their channel on points (thus resulting into another group being dismissed by the FCC), then that winning group is subject to certain restrictions on transferring the station to another organization for the first four years of full operation of the station.

Nature of broadcast service
This window is for noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcast stations.  THIS IS NOT FOR COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES.  If you want to profit from running a radio station, don’t bother filing in this window.  NCE stations may acknowledge “underwriters”, those who give money to the station.  Underwriting acknowledgements can include identifying information such as name, address, phone number, website and even a brief description of the business.  The announcements may not “promote” the business or a certain aspect of the business.  There are strict controls on the language that can be used on the air to make these acknowledgements.  These messages should be made with a station’s voice and not the voice of the underwriter.  VIOLATIONS OF THE RULES REGARDING COMMERCIALS ON NCE STATIONS CAN LEAD TO FINES IN THE TENS-OF-THOUSANDS. 

Parties to the application
FCC rules require LPFM licensees to be local and either have 75% of its board members reside with 20 miles of the transmitting antenna or the organization have a headquarters or campus within 20 miles.  This distance is reduced to 10 miles for stations located in major media markets 1 through 50.  LPFM stations are also available to government and tribal entities as long as the station is located in their jurisdiction.

As this is an NCE window and involves non-profit organizations, then all board members are a party to the application.  Board members should be vetted for various character issues such as past felony convictions as well as past cases of providing false information to the government.  Normally, up to 20% of the board members may be non-US citizens (remember: green cards and TPS are not considered being a citizen, even if they are a legal resident).  There is an extensive process for organizations with more than 20% foreign citizens on their board.  Board members must also not be on a denial of federal benefits under the U.S. Anti-Drug Act (the same law that denies student loans).  One or more board members may have also not been involved in the past with unauthorized, unlicensed broadcasting otherwise known as “pirate radio”.

Board members who are also on the board of a noncommercial full-service broadcast station or have an ownership stake in a commercial full-service broadcast station, FM translator, low power TV station, cable system or newspaper of general circulation in the area must disclose their other interests and may be required to either divest themselves from those other interests or they may be able to pledge to recuse themselves from matters affecting the LPFM station.  There are also exceptions for LPFM stations licensed to colleges and universities which own full-service stations if the LPFM station will be operated by the students of the institution.

Responsibilities of licensee
Once a facility is completely constructed, the application for license is filed.  Once granted, the facility is fully licensed.  Broadcast licenses are issued for 8-year terms however the original license will be issued for the period of time from when the license is granted until the date when all radio broadcast licenses for that state expire.  The renewal process is fairly easy. 

Unlike full-service NCE stations, LPFM stations are not required to maintain a public inspection file or file ownership reports. Any board changes (including gradual) that exceed 50% from the original application must be first approved by the FCC in a transfer of control process.  This process will need to be repeated whenever the 50% or more of the board members change again.

Public notice
Applicants whose applications have been “accepted for filing” by the FCC will be required to place a public notice.  As of the time of the writing of this fact sheet (January 12, 2020), the FCC still requires these public notices to be published in the newspaper that serves the community being applied for.  There is a pending rulemaking that may replace the newspaper requirement with online posting on a known local website, state broadcaster association or as proposed by REC, a website dedicated to broadcast public notices.

Costs
Building and operating a radio station is not cheap.  LPFM stations are required to use transmitters that have been type certified (“type accepted” is not sufficient).  Certified transmitters will have a label marked “FCC ID #” and have an ID number that can be looked up at the FCC’s equipment website.  Uncertified transmitters may not have the failsafe modes in them to detect out-of-tolerance situations and immediately take action. They will require more TLC by a qualified engineer who can watch over the operation.  Using uncertified transmitters can lead to notices of violation and possible fines.  Expect to spend around $3500 for a certified transmitter.  In some cases, a simple antenna can be used.  LPFM antennas can be purchased for as little as about $200 however they will not perform as well as more expensive antennas.  In some cases, such as “second adjacent channel” interference cases, you may need to purchase a more expensive antenna.  REC recommends LPFM stations use a two-bay circular polarized antenna such as a Nicom BKG-77, Nicom BKG-88 or Shively 6812.  These antennas will cost around $2,000. 

All broadcast stations are required to be equipped with an emergency alert system (EAS) decoder.  Expect to pay at least $3,500 for this piece of equipment.  In addition, software updates that keep up with changes made by the federal government may lead to additional charges once every few years.

Broadcast stations that carry copyrighted music over the air must pay annual royalty fees to up to three performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC).  The annual fees for all three organizations combined is approximately $1,000 per year.  Stations that decide to “stream” their audio over the internet are even higher and also include other organizations (SoundExchange).  Radio stations licensed to accredited schools may be able to get lower rates for streaming.  Royalty rates increase every year.

When determining the costs of running a radio station, you also need to take into consideration the day to day costs including power, other infrastructure as well as any applicable property taxes and upkeep on the equipment. 

For noncommercial educational broadcast applicants and licensees including LPFM stations, the FCC (federal government) does not charge any application or regulatory fees.

For filing assistance, REC does charge for services based on a “level of effort” from each situation.  For LPFM stations, you may be looking at professional fees from about $1,500~$2,500 based on exactly what needs to be done.  Most situations will come in on the lower end of that range.  REC’s LPFM offering will include the filing of the original application, up to one modification in the event of mutual exclusivity and the post-construction application to obtain the full license.  The higher fees may apply when second-adjacent channel waivers, directional antennas or other complexities are added.  Additional fees may be charged if the applicant makes a change after significant work is performed.    REC bills in advance before work is done.  REC can be paid securely online using a major credit or debit card. Payment by check is also permitted but must clear prior to the filing window.  For public sector and educational institutions, Michelle Bradley of REC can provide a W-9. 

REC can provide very basic “preliminary checks” for “yes/no” answers on potential availability prior to payment.  It is REC’s policy to not collect unless we are sure the request can be done.  To keep our prices low, REC has a no-refund policy. 

There is no retainer or other fee to start your relationship with REC Networks for this window.  Please contact REC by e-mail at lpfm@recnet.com or call 202 621-2355. 

We look forward to working with you.  We hope to hear you on the air real soon!