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Radio? Not interested

With the pending LPFM filing window in October, I decided that perhaps I could spread the information to some local groups that might want to put a community radio station on the air where I live.  Back over a decade ago, there were a couple of local commercial AM and FM stations in the area, but they moved out of town to a larger city some 24 miles to the east.  If local legend is to be believed, the AM station was very popular, with its studios and offices over the local pharmacy.  That station is now running 24/7 comedy, which given the area, is ironic almost beyond words.  As it stands now, this is one of those rural areas that, on paper, looks well served by several different radio stations.  Truth is, there are radio signals receivable here, but there is no local radio.  The last time anyone from those previously local stations had a meaningful thought about the respective Cities of License was months if not years ago.

With all this in mind, I first approached a local community non-profit group.  They seemed mildly interested, but expressed doubt about finding a studio location.  Their basic take was, we can help, but we want others involved.  Seemed to be a lukewarm, but understandable and not totally unwarranted response.

I then approached the local school board.  The idea was to get the high school involved with the station broadcasting sports events and teaching kids how to do play by play and perhaps other types of radio shows.  They fainted interest at first, then decided that they didn’t have the staff to deal with a broadcast program and there were other excuses like “liability issues.”

I then approached the local governments (two different towns) who were almost openly hostile to the idea.  While they didn’t say as much to my face, they rather implied that it would be a waste of time and the town(s) were not interested.

I have approached other local groups, which don’t seem to be interested at all.

Has radio lost its mojo with the local population?  Are we who still remain in the radio business simply fooling ourselves into thinking that somehow this is important?  I don’t know.

The hazards of rural LPFM; large area, few people, generalized indifference.

My appologies for the lack of posts

Two reasons for this; first, I am deep into the IP networking curriculum and time is at a premium.  That being said, I am rather enjoying myself in school, which is always good.  Secondly, and related to the first part, I have not been spending too much time these days doing Broadcast Engineering work.  Thus, the subject matter and various topics have not been jumping out at me as they normally do.

My busy schedule not withstanding, there are some interesting things going on in the realm of Radio Engineering:

  1. On the LPFM front, the FCC has dismissed over 3,000 translator applications from the great translator invasion of 2003.  This is great news and now potential LPFM applicants can use the FCC LPFM search tool to get a good idea of what is available in their neck of the woods.  Other search tools include Recnet and Prometheus Radio project.  Filing window is October 15, 2013, apply now or forever hold  your peace.
  2. Chris Imlay has some good ideas on AM revitalization. His suggestion is to have the FCC enforce and strengthen its existing rules regarding electrical interference. I notice two letters are missing from his list, those would be “h” and “d.” While the ideas are technically sound, it seems unlikely that the FCC can or would be able to enforce stricter Part 18 rules.
  3. Lots of EAS shenanigans going on with zombie alerts and hijacked EAS systems.  Really people, default passwords?  Secure your equipment and networks or pay the price for complacency.  Nearly all new equipment has some sort of web interface, which can be a great time saver.  They can also be easily exploited if left vulnerable.  Fortunately, this was not as bad as it could have been.
  4. Something happened in NYC that hasn’t happened in quite a while.  Country music filled the air on a station that is generally receivable in the five boroughs.  This may not seem like big news to the rest of the country, but in market number one, it is big news.  Further, Cumulus has registered “NashFMxxxx.com” for every FM dial position.  National country channel in the works?  I’d bet yes.  A look at recent trends shows that Cumulus is standardizing formats on many of its AM and FM stations, making them, effectively, part of a nation network of over the air repeaters.
  5. Clear Channel has put more effort into iHeartradio, for seemly many of the same reasons as Cumulus’s standardized formats.

Where is this all going?  There are several trends evident including; AM will eventually be declared DOA and switched off, transition to national based music formats, an emphasis on IP (internet) based delivery systems, an eventual phase out of local programming, smaller staffs concentrated on local sales and little else.

The single bright spot could be LPFM.  Only time will tell if this new crop of LPFM licensees will keep the faith and tradition of local radio.  If one looks at the natural course of evolution, under times of extreme stress, species tend to get physically smaller in response.  The larger species cannot sustain themselves with the necessary energy intake and die off.  See also: Dinosaurs.  I certainly would call this prolonged, nearly dead economy stressful on the broadcasting business.  Perhaps, when all is said and done, it will be the small, volunteer LPFM still on the air and serving the community.

Opportunity

My son and daughter are playing ice hockey this winter. Which means that every Saturday morning I have to get up very early and haul them off to the rink for practice and a game.  It is actually a lot of fun because I love watching them play.  Having played a certain version of pond hockey in my youth, it brings back good memories.

In any case, last week, after they finished their game and changed out of their hockey gear, my son wanted to watch the older kids play.  Thus, we sat down in the bleachers for a few minutes to watch the 12-15 year olds play against a traveling team.   Most hockey leagues are mixed, that is to say girls and boys playing on the same team.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the girls can be decerned not only by their pony tails but also the pink stake laces or pink hockey gloves.  I also noticed that the girls seem to play a more cerebral version of the game, which is a joy to watch.

Not soon after we sat down, a fast break play developed at mid ice.  It was truly a thing of beauty.  A player from the home team intercepted a pass from the opposing team and took off down the ice.  She was followed closely by another player from her own team.  As they crossed the opposing red line, the other team closed in.  I watched the lead player move fast toward the goal then fake out the goalie, lifting her stick oh so much as she made the shot.  The goalie was completely fooled and dove for the non-existing puck, which was left on the ice for the following player, who neatly scooped it into the goal under the goalie’s leg.  It was over in a flash of white jerseys and pink laces.  I thought to myself; these are kids are great!  You do not have to watch an NHL game to see good hockey and sometimes the so called “professional” sports is overrated anyway.

Which got me to thinking about LPFM.  How many budding journalists, play by play announcers, DJs and presenters are out there waiting for an opportunity to show their stuff?  An opportunity that they may never get because most commercial and many public radio stations are locked into an increasing automation loop.  Locally originated programming is constantly being cut and replaced by satellite syndicated formats and or out of market voice tracking.  It is truly a shame, because the strongest leg that terrestrial radio can stand on is localism.

LPFM can be that opportunity to return radio to its community of license.  It will not be easy, clearly the rules were written to prevent LPFM from ever competing with commercial or even public radio stations.  Restrictive power levels, odious interference rules, and limited fund raising capability will keep all but the true believers and perhaps ignorant souls from attempting for a license.  It will be hard, but not impossible and the true believers will make a go of it.  The October 15th, 2013 filing window will very likely be the last opportunity for community organizations to establish a local radio station.  After that, the remaining spectrum crumbs will be divided between translator aggregators to create ever larger networks of mostly redundant content.

Terrestrial radio may well go through an evolutionary change.  As more and more broadcasters are finding out, once a license is owned, there is a great deal of expense in operating a station.  Things like employees and office supplies can be cut, however; towers need to be maintained, transmitters and antennas need to be replaced periodically, electricity bills must be paid, etc.  The larger the station, the more operating costs are involved.  Another serious economic downturn like 2008 and the crazy train will be off the rails.  The inexpensive to operate, volunteer run local LPFM may indeed be the last radio station(s) standing.  I have heard many decry this type of station as “amateurish” or “not professional.”  Here is what can happen if you give a bunch of amateurs a free hand:

Good stuff.  Big picture stuff.

Migrating the existing AM stations to former TV channels 5 and 6

This is one of the possibilities that has been bantered about as a solution for the “AM problem.” The theory goes as such; former TV channels 5 and 6 (76 – 88 MHz), which are not suitable for DTV would be an ideal place for the existing AM stations to move.  That represents a 12 MHz chunk of spectrum, which is much more than the current 1.16 MHz spectrum the current AM broadcasting service takes up (.54 to 1.7 Mhz).  An added benefit is that the VHF spectrum does not have the skywave “problem” that the MF spectrum does, thus many more stations could be licensed to the service.  Everyone would benefit, AM stations would get a new lease on life in the FM band.  The number of stations would increase by several fold, including LPFM, non-commercial and translators.  AM stations would no longer be burdened with expensive directional arrays or sub standard audio quality.

It seems almost too good to be true…

The FCC reportedly promised “take a hard look” at this idea back in 2008.  Four years later, one wonders what has become of it.

A quick search of the existing TV stations licensed to channel 5 and 6 reveals the flaw in this theory.  The FCC has re-licensed many full powered and Low Powered DTV stations to channel 5 and 6 since 2008.

List of full power channel 5 stations:

Call Sign Service Status City State Fac ID ERP (kw) HAAT (m) Licensee
WOI-DT DT LIC AMES IA 8661 13.9 566 CAPITAL COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY, INC.
WGVK DT LIC KALAMAZOO MI 24783 10 169 GRAND VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY
WBKP DT LIC CALUMET MI 76001 6.4 301 LAKE SUPERIOR COMMUNITY BROADCASTING CORPORATION
KXLF-TV DT LIC BUTTE MT 35959 10 588 KXLF COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
KXGN-TV DT LIC GLENDIVE MT 24287 1 152.4 GLENDIVE BROADCASTING CORP.
KHAS-TV DT LIC HASTINGS NE 48003 45 217 HOAK MEDIA OF NEBRASKA LICENSE, LLC
WLMB DT LIC TOLEDO OH 17076 10 155 DOMINION BROADCASTING, INC.
KOBI DT LIC MEDFORD OR 8260 6.35 823 CALIFORNIA OREGON BROADCASTING, INC.
KIVV-TV DT LIC LEAD SD 34348 9.2 561 KEVN, INC.
WTVF DT LIC NASHVILLE TN 36504 22 425 NEWSCHANNEL 5 NETWORK, LLC
WMC-TV DT LIC MEMPHIS TN 19184 34.5 308 WMC LICENSE SUBSIDIARY, LLC
KCWX DT LIC FREDERICKSBURG TX 24316 23.7 412 CORRIDOR TELEVISION, L.L.P.
WCYB-TV DT LIC BRISTOL VA 2455 29.9 743 BLUESTONE LICENSE HOLDINGS INC.
WDTV DT LIC WESTON WV 70592 10 240 WITHERS BROADCASTING COMPANY OF WEST VIRGINIA
WIWN DT LIC FOND DU LAC WI 60571 9 338 WWAZ LICENSE, LLC

List of Low Power Channel 5 stations (analog):

Call Sign Service Status City State Fac ID ERP (kw) HAAT (m) Licensee
KSCT-LP TX LIC SITKA AK 15348 0.049 0 DAN ETULAIN
K05KF TX LIC DILLINGHAM AK 792 0.16 0 ALASKA CORP OF SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST
KRDN-LP TX LIC REDDING CA 127179 0.6 0 KM COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
W05CO TX LIC SARASOTA FL 66995 3 0 THREE ANGELS BROADCASTING NETWORK, INC.
W05CJ TX LIC KEY WEST FL 125642 0.59 0 JAMES J. CHLADEK
DKHHB-LP TX LIC HILO HI 126233 3 0 KHHB, LLC
WIKY-LP TX LIC EVANSVILLE, ETC. IN 61036 0.14 0 ROBERTS BROADCASTING COMPANY OF EVANSVILLE, IN, LLC
K05IV TX LIC PARK RAPIDS MN 55374 0.019 0 RED RIVER BROADCAST CO., LLC
W05BV TX LIC STARKVILLE MS 21634 0.066 0 FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
K05LU TX LIC JEFFERSON CITY MO 128520 0.11 0 HISPANIC CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY NETWORK, INC.
K05LY TX LIC MOBERLY MO 128560 0.1 0 HISPANIC CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY NETWORK, INC.
KSXC-LP TX LIC SOUTH SIOUX CITY NE 128012 3 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
K05KY TX LIC LINCOLN CITY OR 129190 2.25 0 MICHAEL MATTSON
K05KX TX LIC TILLAMOOK OR 129194 0.65 0 MICHAEL MATTSON
KRCW-LP TX LIC PORTLAND OR 35151 2.7 0 TRIBUNE BROADCAST HOLDINGS, INC., DEBTOR-IN-POSSESSION
K05LE TX LIC ASTORIA OR 129161 2.5 0 MICHAEL MATTSON
KJIB-LP TX LIC CLEAR LAKE CITY TX 21184 0.103 0 FAR EASTERN TELECASTERS
KLUF-LP TX LIC LUFKIN TX 28937 0.094 0 INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING NETWORK
K05EF TX LIC BRADY, ETC. TX 10043 0.068 0 FOSTER CHARITABLE FOUNDATION, INC.
KTXF-LP TX LIC ABILENE TX 130840 0.665 0 KM COMMUNICATIONS, INC.

List of Low Power Channel 5 stations (digital)

Call Sign Service Status City State Fac ID ERP (kw) HAAT (m) Licensee
K05FW-D LD LIC GIRDWOOD AK 796 0.061 0 ALASKA PUBLIC TELECOMMUNICATIONS, INC.
K05ET-D LD LIC LIKELY CA 8240 0.25 0 CALIFORNIA OREGON BROADCASTING, INC.
K05CR-D LD LIC HAYFORK CA 68112 0.007 0 TRINITY COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION
K05CF-D LD LIC WEAVERVILLE CA 71381 0.015 0 WEAVERVILLE TRANSLATOR CO., INC.
K05FR-D LD LIC CROWLEY LAKE CA 43512 0.06 0 MONO COUNTY SERVICE AREA NO. 1
K05DQ-D LD LIC BURNEY, ETC. CA 8314 0.045 0 BLUESTONE LICENSE HOLDINGS INC.
K05LI-D LD LIC WEBER CANYON CO 130882 0.0023 0 SOUTHWEST COLORADO TV TRANSLATOR ASSOCIATION
K05GA-D LD LIC DOLORES CO 61470 0.0052 0 SOUTHWEST COLORADO TV TRANSLATOR ASSOCIATION
K05JW-D LD LIC ISMAY CANYON CO 61449 0.0024 0 SOUTHWEST COLORADO TV TRANSLATOR ASSOCIATION
K05MD-D LD LIC CRIPPLE CREEK, ETC. CO 167809 1.5 0 TUCK PROPERTIES, INC. C/O LEE PELTZMAN
WRUF-LD LD LIC GAINESVILLE FL 4200 0.3 0 BOARD OF TRUSTEES, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
K05GL-D LD LIC COOLIN ID 53516 0.013 0 PRIEST LAKE TRANSLATOR DISTRICT
K05EY-D LD LIC TERRACE LAKES ID 23150 0.065 0 GARDEN VALLEY TRANSLATOR DISTRICT
K05BE-D LD LIC LEHMI, ETC ID 58708 0.013 0 SALMON TV TRANSLATOR DISTRICT
W05DD-D LD LIC ST. FRANCIS ME 39652 0.097 0 MAINE PUBLIC BROADCASTING CORPORATION
K05GM-D LD LIC PLAINS-PARADISE MT 52780 0.017 0 PLAINS-PARADISE TV DISTRICT
K05AH-D LD LIC HOT SPRINGS MT 27685 0.005 0 HOT SPRINGS TV DISTRICT
K05ML-D LD LIC SULA MT 181578 0.006 0 SULA TV DISTRICT
K05IZ-D LD LIC HINSDALE MT 27259 0.0034 0 HINSDALE TV CLUB
K05MW-D LD LIC FERNDALE MT 182548 0.024 0 SWAN HILL TV DIST
K05FC-D LD LIC LAKE MCDONALD MT 16754 0.005 0 CANYON TV
K05KK-D LD LIC POPLAR MT 53012 0.037 0 POPLAR TV DISTRICT
K05JU-D LD LIC ELKO NV 19401 0.1 0 ELKO TELEVISION DISTRICT
K05AF-D LD LIC MINA/LUNING NV 42702 0.07 0 MINERAL TELEVISION DISTRICT #1
W05AR-D LD LIC BRYSON CITY, ETC. NC 53896 0.089 0 WYFF HEARST TELEVISION INC.
WTVF LD LIC NASHVILLE TN 36504 3 0 NEWSCHANNEL 5 NETWORK, LLC
K05AR-D LD LIC ROCKVILLE UT 70962 0.031 0 BONNEVILLE INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION
W05AW-D LD LIC CHRISTIANSTED VI 70286 0.3 0 VIRGIN ISLANDS PUBLIC TV SYSTEM
W05AA-D LD LIC ROANOKE VA 73989 0.097 0 WSET, INCORPORATED
K05MU-D LD LIC LEAVENWORTH WA 187540 0.01 0 LEAVENWORTH NON-PROFIT TV ASSOCIATION
KCEM-LD LD LIC CHELAN BUTTE WA 64455 0.003 0 APPLE VALLEY TV ASSOCIATION, INC

List of full power Channel 6 stations:

Call Sign Service Status City State Fac ID ERP (kw) HAAT (m) Licensee
WUOA DT LIC TUSCALOOSA AL 77496 26 395 THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF AlABAMA
WEDY DT LIC NEW HAVEN CT 13595 0.4 88 CONNECTICUT PUBLIC BROADCASTING, INC.
WCES-TV DT LIC WRENS GA 23937 7.9 429.4 GEORGIA PUBLIC TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
WABW-TV DT LIC PELHAM GA 23917 10.5 378.9 GEORGIA PUBLIC TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
KBSD-DT DT LIC ENSIGN KS 66414 31 216.8 SUNFLOWER BROADCASTING, INC.
KTVM-TV DT LIC BUTTE MT 18066 19.2 591.3 BLUESTONE LICENSE HOLDINGS INC.
KWNB-TV DT LIC HAYES CENTER NE 21162 11.9 221 PAPPAS TELECASTING OF CENTRAL NEBRASKA, L.P.
WRGB DT LIC SCHENECTADY NY 73942 30.2 392 WRGB LICENSEE, LLC
WPVI-TV DT LIC PHILADELPHIA PA 8616 34 330 ABC, INC.

List of  Low Power Channel 6 stations (analog):

Call Sign Service Status City State Fac ID ERP (kw) HAAT (m) Licensee
K06LG TX LIC CHUATHBALUK AK 62827 0.052 0 STATE OF ALASKA
K06LP TX LIC CIRCLE HOT SPRINGS AK 62529 0.548 0 STATE OF ALASKA
KNIK-LP TX LIC ANCHORAGE AK 21492 0.92 0 FIREWEED COMMUNICATIONS LLC
K06MF TX LIC KENAI, ETC. AK 21490 1.44 0 FIREWEED COMMUNICATIONS LLC
W06BH TX LIC PHENIX CITY, ETC. AL 25207 0.06 0 GREENE COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
KNJO-LP TX LIC HOLBROOK AZ 131162 0.475 0 KM COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
KVFA-LP TX LIC YUMA AZ 131144 0.05 0 KM COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
K06MU TX LIC BIG BEAR LAKE CA 63149 1 0 BEAR VALLEY BROADCASTING, INC.
KNNN-LP TX LIC REDDING CA 129249 1.5 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
KLOA-LP TX LIC INYOKERN, ETC. CA 28583 3 0 ROBERT D. ADELMAN
KCIO-LP TX LIC VICTORVILLE CA 11529 0.99 0 OBIDIA PORRAS
KRPE-LP TX LIC BANNING CA 129651 0.999 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
KUHD-LP TX LIC VENTURA CA 67963 0.999 0 OBIDIA PORRAS
KBKF-LP TX LIC SAN JOSE CA 127882 0.6 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
KEFM-LP TX LIC SACRAMENTO CA 127996 3 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
KXDP-LP TX LIC DENVER CO 67552 3 0 SYNCOM MEDIA GROUP, INC.
WHDY-LP TX LIC PANAMA CITY FL 130063 1 0 CONFESORA PERALTA
WEYS-LP TX LIC MIAMI FL 6035 3 0 ALMAVISION HISPANIC NETWORK
WDDA-LP TX LIC DALTON GA 131127 2.5 0 WORD OF GOD FELLOWSHIP, INC.
KESU-LP TX LIC HANAMAULU HI 131005 3 0 CHANG BROADCASTING HAWAII, LLC
WKQX-LP TX LIC CHICAGO IL 128239 3 0 WLFM, LLC
W06BD TX LIC PRINCETON IN 49243 0.014 0 NORTH GIBSON SCHOOL CORPORATION
WDCO-LP TX LIC SALISBURY MD 130439 1 0 SIGNAL ABOVE LLC
WJMF-LP TX LIC JACKSON MS 26253 2 0 KID’S TELEVISION, LLC
KGHD-LP TX LIC LAS VEGAS NV 130027 3 0 OBIDIA PORRAS
WMYH-LP TX LIC ELMIRA NY 125819 0.25 0 VISION COMMUNICATIONS, LLC
WXXW-LP TX LIC BINGHAMTON NY 129224 0.016 0 JOHNSON BROADCASTING COMPANY, INC.
WNYZ-LP TX LIC NEW YORK NY 56043 3 0 ISLAND BROADCASTING LLC
WMBO-LP TX LIC WESTVALE NY 14319 0.3 0 METRO TV, INC.
WNNY-LP TX LIC AUBURN NY 41364 1.45 0 RENARD COMMUNICATIONS CORP.
WMTO-LP TX LIC WANCHESE NC 127802 0.6 0 RAY H. LIVESAY
WLFM-LP TX LIC CLEVELAND OH 6699 3 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
K06NI TX LIC THE DALLES OR 129153 0.25 0 MICHAEL MATTSON
WRTN-LP TX LIC ALEXANDRIA TN 125858 2 0 RICHARD C & LISA A. GOETZ
WPGF-LP TX LIC MEMPHIS TN 23848 3 0 GEORGE S. FLINN, JR.
KRGT-LP TX LIC RIO GRANDE CITY TX 57999 0.04 0 CTV BROADCASTING, LLC
KFMP-LP TX LIC LUBBOCK TX 129734 3 0 VENTURE TECHNOLOGIES GROUP, LLC
KXIT-LP TX LIC AMARILLO TX 130089 3 0 GEORGE CHAMBERS
KBFW-LP TX LIC ARLINGTON TX 127887 3 0 GERALD BENAVIDES
KZFW-LP TX LIC DALLAS TX 5316 3 0 DFW BROADCASTING, INC.
K06PB TX LIC UVALDE TX 67303 0.99 0 SUPER RADIO, INC.
WDCN-LP TX LIC FAIRFAX VA 20450 3 0 SIGNAL ABOVE LLC
K06OA TX LIC EAU CLAIRE WI 129139 0.9 0 MARCIA T. TURNER D/B/A TURNER ENTERPRISES

List of Low Power Channel 6 stations  (digital):

Call Sign Service Status City State Fac ID ERP (kw) HAAT (m) Licensee
K06OR-D LD LIC SEWARD AK 168866 0.3 0 SEWARD MEDIA PARTNERS, LLC
K06AE-D LD LIC PRESCOTT AZ 35274 0.5 0 MULTIMEDIA HOLDINGS CORPORATION
K06HN-D LD LIC GUNNISON CO 25611 0.06 0 GUNNISON COUNTY METROPOLITAN RECREATION DISCRICT
K06HU-D LD LIC ASPEN CO 56704 0.006 0 PITKIN COUNTY TRANSLATOR DEPARTMENT
K06GW-D LD LIC NEW CASTLE CO 23159 0.005 0 ROCKY MOUNTAIN PUBLIC BROADCASTING NETWORK, INC
K06NT-D LD LIC DOLORES CO 130881 0.0052 0 SOUTHWEST COLORADO TV TRANSLATOR ASSOCIATION
K06NG-D LD LIC SARGENTS CO 126929 0.05 0 GUNNISON COUNTY METROPOLITAN RECREATION DISCRICT
W06AY-D LD LIC LEBANON KY 70498 0.3 0 GARY WHITE
K06FE-D LD LIC MILES CITY MT 35726 0.1 0 MMM LICENSE II LLC
K06AA-D LD LIC BROADUS MT 53167 0.088 0 POWDER RIVER T.V. BOARD
K06AV-D LD LIC WOLF POINT MT 73376 0.019 0 WOLF POINT TV DISTRICT
K06NV-D LD LIC WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS MT 21710 0.06 0 MEAGHER COUNTY TELEVISION DISTRICT
K06JC-D LD LIC CHADRON NE 47977 0.066 0 NEBRASKA EDUCATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
K06KR-D LD LIC CRAWFORD NE 47991 0.028 0 NEBRASKA EDUCATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
K06PG-D LD LIC LAUGHLIN NV 11687 0.3 0 CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
K06KQ-D LD LIC MANHATTAN NV 14126 0.02 0 COUNTY OF NYE
K06MK-D LD LIC ELKO NV 19380 0.1 0 ELKO TELEVISION DISTRICT
K06HT-D LD LIC ELY NV 59129 0.053 0 WHITE PINE TELEVISION DISTRICT # 1
K06NY-D LD LIC RYNDON NV 128750 0.062 0 ELKO TELEVISION DISTRICT
W06AJ-D LD LIC FRANKLIN, ETC. NC 53884 0.193 0 WYFF HEARST TELEVISION INC.
K06NS-D LD LIC CHILOQUIN OR 8268 0.193 0 CALIFORNIA OREGON BROADCASTING, INC.
K06PM-D LD LIC BEAUMONT TX 128836 0.3 0 ROGER MILLS
K06JA-D LD LIC CEDAR CANYON UT 9712 0.015 0 CEDAR CANYON TV

Looking through this data, particularly the digital licenses which were granted since 2009, one an only assume that the FCC has, by de facto, nixed this idea if it ever considered it at all.

The unitless coefficient of Zorch

Zorch is a term used to describe an over voltage or over current condition that usually leads to catastrophic failure, e.g. the power supply was zorched by lightning. There is also a quality to radio signals that defy and exceed theoretical definitions for service contours or power density.  That is quality defined as:

Zorch (adj): The ability of an RF signal to be received in unlikely locations; outside of predicted service contour, in steel structures, underground facilities, tunnels, etc.

It brings to mind the saying, “antennas are not amplifiers and amplifiers are not antennas.”

ERI circularly polarized 2 bay antenna

ERI circularly polarized 2 bay antenna

During the earlier stages of FM broadcasting, there was a notion that costs could be reduced by increasing antenna gain and reducing transmitter size. While theoretically, ERP (Effective Radiated Power) is ERP, broadcasters soon learned that high gain antenna, low TPO (Transmitter Power Output) installations lacked building penetration and had other reception issues.  Realizing that there is a trade off between antenna bays, transmitter power output especially in difficult reception areas, a great debate occurred and continues on what the optimal system is.  The answer is, it depends on the receiving environment.

Where this technical detail can be really important is with lower powered FM stations; Class A and LPFMs to be exact.  They are already battling against bigger stations that have tens or even hundreds of times  more power.  Certainly an LP-100 station has it’s work cut out for it.  The choice of antenna is perhaps one of the most important technical decisions to be made.  Choosing the right balance of antenna type, antenna gain, antenna height and transmitter power output can greatly influence reception reliability and thus coverage area.

A good study of this quality can be had by looking at various LPFM installations:

Station ERP (watts) Antenna Type Antenna Gain (power) TPO (watts)* Coefficient of Zorch
100 1 bay vertical 0.92 127 0.1
100 1 bay circular 0.46 253 0.4
100 2 bay vertical full 1.98 58 0.15
100 2 bay vertical half 1.40 83 0.2
100 2 bay circular full 0.99 118 0.5
100 2 bay circular half 0.70 166 0.7
100 3 bay circular full 1.52 77 0.46
100 3 bay circular half 1.01 115 0.52

*Includes 100 feet of 1/2 inch foam transmission line, Andrew LDF4-50A, loss of 0.661 dB  at 100 MHz, or 0.859 power gain.

Stations should try to get the transmitting antenna as high up as permitted without reducing ERP.  In other words, the FCC allows 100 watts ERP with 98 feet Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) radiation center in their current LPFM rules.  Being lower in height will reduce the coverage area.  Going over 98 feet HAAT will cause the station’s power to be reduced, which will lower the coefficient of zorch accordingly.  Therefore, getting as close to 98 feet HAAT, which is different than 98 feet above ground level in many places, will net the best performance.

If a singular polarization (horizontal or vertical) is desired, vertical polarization should be chosen, as most mobile reception is by a vertical whip antenna.  For best reception performance, a circularly polarized antenna will work best, as receiver antenna orientation will not effect the signal reception.  A circularly polarized antenna has better building penetration and multi-path characteristics.  The FM broadcast circularly polarized antenna in not a true circularly polarized antenna, it is actually unpolarized.

The use of a multi-bay antenna has the effect of focusing the RF radiation outward, perpendicular to the element stack, thus limiting the radiation directly up or down from the antenna.  This is more pronounced with one half wave spaced antennas, which may be an environmental consideration in heavily populated areas.

Thus, the best coefficient of zorch for an LPFM station would be a circularly polarized, 1/2 wave spaced, 2 bay antenna.  This antenna would have some gain over a single bay antenna, take up less room on a tower than a full wave spaced antenna, offer good RF protection performance for the general public living and working under the antenna, reduce wasted upward radiation and offer good building penetration for the ERP.  It would require a slightly larger transmitter and more electricity, but that trade off is well worth the effort.

LPFM channel finder

A potential LPFM (Low Power FM) filing window may be opening up as soon October/November.  There is nothing official from the FCC about the date, however, several insiders have suggested that this is on the fast track and it may happen sooner rather than later.

This will likely be the last chance for community radio operators to get a LPFM license, as after this filing window, every available scrap of spectrum will have a translator shoe horned into it.  Therefore, now is the time to do some research and get prepared.

To that end, there are two good LPFM channel finders that can be used to determine if a LPFM station can be put on the air.  The first is the FCC’s official LPFM channel finder.  For this tool, one will need to know the latitude and longitude of the proposed transmitter site.  That information can be obtained from itouchmap.com, with which one can find the lat/long of any point on the face of the earth.

The second LPFM channel finder is from REC networks.  This tool is a much more flexible.  For finding possible transmitter location, a street address, zip code, or lat/long can be used.  It also has much more information as it has a provision to use the proposed 250 watt station class and shows every available channel as well as possible available second adjacent channels.

Prometheus radio has a simpler zip code check, which does not give any technical information, it simply states that LPFM channels are available at the zip code which was entered.  Prometheus has good primers on how to start and operate a LPFM station.

If you are a member of a group considering starting a community radio station, now is the time to get going.

The FCC LPFM plan

FCC moves ahead on a couple of different fronts in the LPFM battle.  Cliff notes version:

  1. The 2003 translator filing window question.  The FCC has more or less stuck with it’s plan to keep a minimum number LPFM channels available in the top 150 markets.  This also includes a 50 application limit for the country and no more than one application per market per applicant.  Where conflicts occur, translator applicants get the chance to demonstrate how their application would not preclude LPFM opportunities.
  2. Modifies (eventually eliminates) the May 1, 2009 cut of date for cross service (AM to FM) translators.
  3. The establishment of new LPFM allocations under the criteria of disregarding the third adjacent channel contours.
  4. More stringent requirements for local programming and ownership, especially as a determining factor for mutual LPFM applications.
  5. Allows LPFM stations to own translators.
  6. New class LPFM is established; the LP250.  The 250 watt LPFM stations are designed mainly for areas outside of top fifty markets or for previously licensed LP-100 stations that want to upgrade provided the minimum separation contours are met with existing stations.

The FCC has included the proposed rule changes as appendix A of FCC 12-28.  Standard FCC comment and reply windows apply.

Looks like things are moving along pretty fast.  Others have speculated at a filing window sometime later this year, I’ll not do that.

Cost of Starting a LPFM vs cost of Internet Streaming

I have been watching the LPFM proceedings with some interest. The FCC has not exactly promised to have a filing window by end of 2012, but indicates that it might try to do that. In comparison to such evolutions in the past, this is moving pretty fast. Those that want an LPFM station need to start planing now.  As in previous LPFM windows, the availability is for non-profit organizations only.  This does not mean all hope is lost; NPR stations are all non-profits and most of them are very successful.

One of the biggest questions is: How much will it cost?  Like all things, it varies greatly.  If I were to put an LPFM or internet radio station on the air, there would be certain minimums, such as the use of professional audio equipment, a new antenna, and some type of redundancy.

Generally speaking, radio stations and internet stations both need some type of office/studio space.  This can range from large and opulent to a closet.  The costs for these would depend on the type and quantity of equipment installed, whether the equipment is new or used, the building, the area, etc.  Those facilities also have monthly reoccurring costs such as rent, electric, telephone service, internet service, etc.

Since internet radio stations and traditional terrestrial over the air radio would use the same type of studio equipment, those costs will be similar.  Here is a breakdown of the studio equipment:

Nomenclature Cost new (USD) Cost used (USD) Comments
12 Channel professional audio console $6,000.00 $2,500.00 Analog, 4 buss, telephone mix minus
Studio Furniture $5,500.00 $1,000.00 Can also be fabricated locally
Microphones, RE-20 or SM-7B $250-350 $100-150 Per unit, several required
Monitor Amp $250.00 $100.00 Can also use consumer version
Monitor speakers $500.00 $200.00 Can also use consumer version
CD Player $500.00 $200.00 Professional unit with balanced outs
Computer w/ professional sound card $1,500.00 $500.00 For automation and sound file storage
Computer, general use $700.00 $300.00 General information web browsing
Computer, Streaming w/sound card $900.00 $400.00 Sound card should be good quality
Studio Telephone system $1,900.00 $300.00 Used for call in/on air
Barix remote box $240.00 (x2) N/A Used for IP remote broadcasts
Comrex Matrix POTS codec $3,200.00 $700.00 Used for telephone line remote broadcasts
Misc wiring, hardware, ect $1,000.00 $800.00 Connectors, mic booms, wire, etc
Total $21,780.00 $7,930.00

Some equipment is not available used such as Barix boxes.  Of course, not all of this is required for a radio station, however, most local radio stations would want the capability to do remote broadcasts, take phone callers on the air, have multiple guests in the studio, etc.

For a traditional LPFM station, the transmitting equipment would entail:

Nomenclature Cost New (USD) Cost Used (USD) Comments
300 watt transmitter and exciter 4,400.00 2,000.00 Smaller transmitters with higher gain antennas can also be used
2 Bay ½ wave spaced antenna $1,900.00 $700.00
125 feet ½ inch coax $350.00 N/A
100 foot guyed tower and installation $4,000.00 $3,500.00 Not needed if station is on tall building or leased site
STL; IP radio w/ barix boxes $850.00 In lieu of standard 950 MHz STL
STL standard 950 MHZ $6,500.00 $3,500.00  Used in lieu of IP STL
STL antennas, transmission line $2,500.00 $1,500.00
FM Processor $10,000.00 $1,200.00 Can also use software such as Breakaway Broadcast
Misc connectors, grounding kits, etc $1,100.00 N/A
EAS unit $1,900.00 N/A Fully operational CAP compliant
Processing software, Breakway broadcast $200.00 N/A In lieu of standard FM processor
Total $12-24K $8-12K

This is a generic station, most will be somewhat different due to antenna supporting structures, transmitter powers and antenna types.  For the best possible signal, a circularly polarized antenna should be used.  A two bay, 1/2 wave spaced antenna will give the maximum signal density, while minimizing downward and upward radiation.  The upward radiation is simply wasted energy, as no one in space is listening to FM radio.  The downward radiation reduction is key if located in congested areas.

For internet radio station, the following would be required:

Nomenclature Cost New IUSD) Cost Used (USD) Comments
Streaming Server 2,100.00 1,100.00 Includes professional sound card
Audio processing software 200.00 N/A Recommend software such as Breakaway Broadcast
Audio Processing, outboard hardware 650.00 400.00 In lieu of software
Audio Streaming aggregator  1,200 to 2,400 N/A Annually

While LPFM’s are much more expensive than internet only stations, LPFM’s have the advantage of built in marketing, which is the on air signal.  If it is broadcasting on the air, word will get out.  On the internet, some other type of marketing will be needed to spread the word.  Also, LPFM’s should also be streaming, which would incur the same costs above.

The long and short of it is, to put a technically viable LPFM on the air is not an inexpensive proposition.  It is worth the effort, however, because the advantages of an LPFM over an internet only station are great.

Low Pass Filter design

Every good transmitter, tube transmitters in particular, require harmonic filtering.  The last thing any good engineer or broadcaster wants is to cause interference, especially out of band interference to public safety or aviation frequencies.  All modern transmitters are required to have spurious emissions attenuated by 80 dB or greater >75 Khz from carrier frequency.  In reality, 80 dB is still quite high these days, especially in the VHF/UHF band, where receivers are much more sensitive than they used to be.  A good receiver noise floor can be -110 dB depending on local conditions.

The principle behind a low pass filter is pretty easy to understand.  The desired frequency is passed to the antenna, while anything above the cut off frequency is restricted and shunted to ground via a capacitor.

Low pass RC filter

Low pass RC filter

In this case, the resistor is actually an inductor with high reactance above the cut off frequency.  Often, these filters are lumped together to give better performance.  This is a picture of an RVR three stage low pass filter:

RVR three stage low pass filter

RVR three stage low pass filter

RVR is an Italian transmitter maker that sells many transmitters and exciters in this country under names like Bext, Armstrong, etc.  The inductors are obvious, the capacitors consist of a copper strip sandwiched between teflon insulators held down by the dividers in between the inductors.

Schematically, it looks like this:

Low pass filter schematic diagram

Low pass filter schematic diagram

For the FM broadcast band, a good design cutoff frequency would be about 160 MHz. This will give the filter a steep skirt at the first possible harmonic frequency of 176 MHz (88.1 x 2 = 176.2).

Values for components:

Capacitors Value Inductors Value
C1 20 pf L1 74.7 nf
C2 54 pf L2 75.1 nf
C3 54 pf L3 73.9 nf
C4 20 pf

The inductors are wire, or in this case copper strap, with an air core.  It is important to keep the transmitter power output in mind when designing and building these things.  Higher carrier powers require greater spacing between coil windings and larger coil diameters.  This particular filter is rated for 1 KW at 100 MHz.

Shocker: LPFMs have little or no impact on commercial FMs

The long awaited report, required by the NAB as a part of the Local Community Radio Act has concluded that LPFMs have little or no impact on commercial FM stations. No kidding?

The executive summary states that:

LPFM stations serve primarily small and rural markets and have geographic and population reaches that are many magnitudes smaller than those of full-service commercial FM stations. In addition, LPFM stations generally have not been in operation as long as full-service commercial FM stations, have less of an Internet presence, and offer different programming formats. We also found that the average LPFM station located in an Arbitron Radio Metro Market (“Arbitron Metro”) has negligible ratings by all available measures and has an audience size that lags far behind those of most full-service stations in the same market.

Followed by:

Although each of the stations differs considerably in its individual characteristics, the results of the case studies show that the selected LPFM stations generally broadcast a variety of programming continuously throughout the day, operate with very small budgets, rely on mostly part-time and volunteer staff, do not have measurable ratings, have limited population reach, and do not generate significant underwriting earnings. All but one of the station managers that we interviewed stated that the LPFM station is not competing directly for listeners with any specific full-service stations.

And:

We conclude that, given their regulatory and operational constraints, LPFM stations are unlikely to have more than a negligible economic impact on full-service commercial FM stations.

Forgive my excessive block quoting of the FCC report titled: Economic Impact of Low-Power FM Stations on Commercial FM Radio, I found those portions of text far better than anything that I could write on the subject.

The NAB is reportedly “reviewing” the results, which the cynical me thinks is just another way of stalling a potential LPFM window later this year.

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