Skip to content

Radio On: Feds Clear Way for New Community FM Stations

New non-commercial radio stations are now one step closer to popping up on the FM dial in communities across the country. Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules implementing legislation signed last year by President Obama. The FCC’s move clears the way for untold numbers of new low-power FM radio stations, particularly in urban areas where licenses for such LPFM stations were previously unavailable.

Sure, in an era of streaming audio and constant online connectivity, the idea of terrestrial radio stations that might reach no further than a couple of miles maybe doesn’t sound like much. But of course, many people still don’t have access to the Internet, and LPFM can provide communities with an intensely local experience in a way commercial radio rarely if ever does in these post-consolidation times. And unlike corporate radio station owners, LPFM broadcasters aren’t burdened by a legal obligation to put shareholder value above all else.

“This is the first opportunity to apply for low power anywhere in the country in 12 years, and the first time there’s been an opportunity for urban radio in decades,” said Brandy Doyle, policy director for the nonprofit Prometheus Radio Project, quoted by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “It’s going to be the first opportunity in a long time and also the last opportunity of its kind. After this, there won’t be any spectrum left. The FM dial is going to be pretty much full, so this is a historic opportunity.”

As reported in an extensive Pitchfork feature last year, the fight for LPFM is a rare battle that has united everyone from to the Christian Coalition. Artists who have spoken out in favor of LPFM over the years include Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Indigo Girls, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Merge Records co-founder Mac McCaughan (of Superchunk and Portatsatic), Dischord Records co-founder Ian MacKaye (of Minor Threat and Fugazi), Mike Watt of the Minutemen, Franz Nicolay of the Hold Steady, and more; SPIN covered LPFM way back in 2000. What’s more, the chance for more non-commercial community radio stations comes at a time when college radio, which might otherwise fill a similar role, is facing its own setbacks.

The FCC hopes to start accepting applications for new LPFM stations by early next year, as Nieman Journalism Lab reports. Along with freeing up more FM frequencies, the new rules under the Local Community Radio Act also attempt to limit speculators from trying to sell their FM translator for a profit. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), the main sponsor of the the LCRA, issued a statement (via Radio Survivor) encouraging people to “to get in touch with the FCC to find out more about the application process.” For anyone who supports the idea of nonprofit community radio, the FCC’s approvals can’t come soon enough.

Check out a short clip from an NBC documentary about LPFM that apparently aired in 2004: