Low Power FM Gets To Flip The Switch
The name Low Power FM is appropriate considering the other vote Congress took yesterday. With the news outlets focusing on the passing vote to repeal Don't Ask Dont Tell, it's no wonder the Local Community Radio Act, the legislation surrounding Low Power FM, flew so far under the radar. The Huffington Post reported that the Local Community Radio Act had passed both houses of Congress in less than 24 hours. Organizers in favor of the legislation passion had fought for approval against the lobbying efforts of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).
The Local Community Radio Act passed the House of Representatives and Senate, thanks to the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Lee Terry (R-NE) and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John McCain (R-AZ). The bill now awaits President Obama's signature.
Controlled by large radio conglomerate, such as Clear Channel and Emmis Communications, the St. Louis radio airwaves offer few options to those wanting different formats. Local community radio station, KDHX 88.1 FM is a melting pot of diversity in an otherwise bland malaise of bad radio. St. Louis has long been stuck the 1970's for years. New music comes in the form of pop, hip hop, and country hits. St. Louis stalwart KSHE-95 plays some new Rock & Roll, but not much becomes part of the long running playlist instead filling in with harder edged Classic Rock. KPNT 105.7 plays Rock & Roll that they call "everything Alternative", but the station lacks a strong history with the genre as it began in 1993 and fails to play much 1980's underground Rock & Roll. KYKY 98.1 plays new Pop music as does KSLZ 107.7, Other stations like KIHT 96.3, KLOU 103.3, WARH 106.5, KEZK 102.5, each play a mix of older and newer Pop/Rock music mostly focused on the 1970's and 1980's AOR Rock. In the past decade, St. Louis even lost two FM radio stations to the normal AM dominated All Talk format in KFTK 97.1 (News/Politics) and WXOS 101.1 (Sports).
College stations like WSIE 88.7, KWMU 90.7, KWUR 90.3, and WLCA 89.9 do a good job of filling in the gaps in programming, but limited schedules and budgets do not allow representation for everyone. WSIE (Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville) provides a full-time schedule of Jazz music and reports news, weather, and SIUE sporting events. KWMU provides the local feed from NPR along with programs from American Public Radio, and Public Radio International. After the loss of long time classical music fixture KFUO 99.1 FM to a Christian contemporary music station, KWMU stepped up and started a digital radio channel devoted to Classical music. KWUR (Washington University) and WLCA (Lews And Clark Community College) both broadcast low power student run radio stations playing Punk and Indie Rock.
In a press release, the Future of Music Coalition said, "The addition of more Low Power FM (LPFM) stations will increase local civic engagement, diversify the airwaves, support local music and culture, assist during emergencies, expand religious expression, and provide a platform for the voices of underrepresented communities to be heard."
It's obviously too early to determine how much this new act will benefit the St. Louis area. There is a built-in protection for "full-power FM stations that are licensed in significantly populated States with more than 3,000,000 housing units and a population density greater than 1,000 per square mile," therefore the ability to acquire low-power stations in those areas may prove to be more difficult.
Forget the benefits to established commerical radio stations, starting a low power music station could still prove to be problematic. The biggest hurdle to cross is finding or creating a community organization to form the group needed to meet FCC guidelines and keep the station non-commerical. Buying equipment in anticipation of starting a station with no guarantee is risky and electricity costs money that some groups cannot raise. Religious organizations have the community organization to stay within the FCC guidelines and funding to keep the station running. However, Progressives will rejoice because this gives the voice of the people a chance to speak over the same airwaves as Republican blowhards Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh spew their Conservative rhetoric.
The Federal Communication Commission created the Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service in January 2000. These stations are authorized for noncommercial educational broadcasting only (no commercial operation) and operate with an effective radiated power (ERP) of 100 watts (0.1 kilowatts) or less, with maximum facilities of 100 watts ERP at 30 meters (100 feet) antenna height above average terrain (HAAT). The approximate service range of a 100 watt LPFM station is 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles radius). LPFM stations are not protected from interference that may be received from other classes of FM stations. A construction permit is required before a LPFM station can be constructed or operated.