We’ve been reporting on the rapidly approaching low power FM (LPFM) licensing window and recently conducted a Twitter chat specifically on the topic of college radio and LPFM, but there are still plenty of people out there who are either unaware of the opportunity or who are reluctant to apply. It would be a shame if non-profits, particularly campus-only and online-only student radio stations, missed out on this rare chance to obtain a new FM license.
With that, here are our 10 reasons why college radio stations should apply for LPFM when the application window opens this October 15th:
1. LPFM Gives Students the Real World Experience of Working at a Licensed Broadcast Station
Although online-only stations offer great experience and training, there’s something extra for students who volunteer at an FCC-licensed radio station. According to Michelle Bradley of REC Networks, complying with all the technical, administrative, and content rules is a huge benefit for students volunteering at LPFM stations. She writes, “Also (IMHO) working at a licensed broadcast station with real call letters (even if there’s an -LP on the end) is taken much more seriously on resumes than a ‘net station.”
2. Terrestrial Radio Can Help Save You (and Your Community) in a Crisis
I was telling a friend of mine that an Internet-only radio won’t save you when the Dome comes down, cutting your city off from the outside world. Those of you watching the Stephen King-penned series Under the Dome know that a non-commercial radio station was luckily trapped in the dome, meaning that the fictional town of Chester’s Mill has a ready source of information after other media outlets were destroyed. In reality, terrestrial radio provides a huge benefit during local emergencies by airing emergency alerts and by keeping people updated during disasters. We’ve seen this time and time again after tragic hurricanes, earthquakes, and other devastating events. After a major quake in Haiti, a report found that radio provided an “undisputed lifeline” for residents. On a smaller scale, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, a local college radio DJ stayed on the air during a lock-down, giving residents with needed updates, but also with regular music programming to provide an escape from the stress of the barrage of news coverage on other stations.
3. LPFM May Attract More Listeners than Online Radio
Although online radio’s global reach is a major benefit, that still hasn’t translated into huge listenership for most online streams at college radio stations. With an FM license, a station is much more likely to have more listeners tuning in at any given time. In fact, the terrestrial broadcast can be great promotion for a station’s online stream, bringing more listeners overall.
4. Your School Can’t Sell off Your LPFM License for Millions of Dollars
In the past few years we’ve seen a handful of student radio stations blindsided when university officials have sold off (or leased) valuable full-power FM radio licenses. Thankfully, this scenario can’t happen with LPFM. According to stipulations in the FCC rules, “No party may assign or transfer an LPFM license if: (1) Consideration promised or received exceeds the depreciated fair market value of the physical equipment and facilities.” Bradley explained, “Many of us worked hard to make sure no one could profit off of these licenses or permits.”
5. FM is Not Dead
Despite rumors to the contrary, terrestrial radio is alive and well. John Anderson’s recent analysis of 21 years worth of FCC data found that more than 9,000 new licensed radio stations hit the airwaves in the United States during that time. Recent quarterly reports by the FCC confirm that even in the past few years, radio continues to grow. Additionally, radio is still one of the most consumed forms of media. If you have an online station already, gaining a LPFM license will help expand your audience.
6. You May Not Get another Chance to Obtain a New Terrestrial License
The October LPFM licensing application window is a RARE opportunity to apply for a new FM license. This could be the only chance that your school has to get on the air. The last LPFM window occurred more than a decade ago and there’s no guarantee that another window will open in the future. The radio dial is jam-packed with stations and it’s not very often that colleges are able to find or apply for a license. Don’t miss out! Take a look to see if a LPFM frequency might be available in your community.
7. If You are Bummed that Your Campus Has a Radio Station That You Can’t Participate In, You Can Apply for Your Own Student-Run LPFM
Universities and student groups can apply for a new LPFM license, even if there’s a non-student radio station on campus. So, if you’re frustrated that you can’t DJ at your campus NPR station or because your school holds a license for a station that students don’t have access to (either it’s being leased to or run by another group or is professionally run by non-students), then you should apply for a new LPFM license.
Thanks to the work of REC and Common Frequency, the FCC has modified the rules (see the FCC’s November 2012 order here) in order to give these student station applicants a better chance of obtaining a license when there are competing applications. This also means that if you attend a large university system that holds the licenses for multiple stations across the state, you will also be given the chance to apply for a new LPFM license if your campus lacks a terrestrial student radio station.
8. LPFM stations are Cheaper and Easier to Run Than Full Power Radio Stations and You May Have Available Real Estate on Your Campus
Bradley writes, “LPFM allows colleges to operate stations with very low overhead as there is no main studio requirement, no ownership reports, very minimal administration…” Julia Wierski of Prometheus Radio Project concurs, telling me, “LPFMs are generally cheaper to operate on a yearly basis compared to their full-power brothers and sisters. LPFMs located on the grounds of a college may already have a leg-up on LPFMs operated by other off-campus groups who will need to secure space and antenna sites for their stations.”
9. You Can Create the Kind of Interesting, Creative Programming that You Want to Hear on FM
Many young people have become disillusioned with terrestrial radio, having grown up under the cloud of consolidation in the commercial radio industry. With narrowing playlists and less diversity of sounds on commercial radio, many people have found little to excite them on the dial. LPFM is a golden opportunity for students to create exciting music and talk programming that they would be inspired to listen to. LPFM could herald a new era of groundbreaking local FM radio.
10. Terrestrial Radio is Magical
In addition to all the reasons listed above, perhaps the simplest reason has to do with the magic of radio. A long-time radio engineer recently told me that even though he understands the science behind radio transmission, he is still awed by experience of hearing radio sounds emanating from a box miles away from a station’s studio and transmitter. Who wouldn’t want to hear the sounds of their campus radio station emanating through the ether into the homes, cars and businesses of friends, family, and fans in their towns?
If you are thinking of applying for a new LPFM license, there are plenty of resources available to help guide you through the process. See the Radio Survivor LPFM page for more details on where you can find assistance and for a screen-shot tour of the LPFM license application.