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.