An order adopted by the Federal Communications Commission at its Nov. 30 open meeting will allow schools, tribal nations, and other community groups to apply to operate new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations starting in the fall of 2013.
LPFM stations, which cover much smaller areas than full-power stations, are intended to promote highly local content and diversity in media ownership. The FCC created the LPFM service in 2000, and more than 800 stations are operating. But channel-separation requirements imposed by Congress to protect full-power stations from interference prevented LPFM stations from operating in urban areas. The Local Community Radio Act of 2010 gave the FCC greater flexibility to approve LPFM applications, so long as the new LPFM station could demonstrate that it would not cause interference to any other authorized radio service.
Friday’s order, approved unanimously, is the FCC’s second order implementing the LCRA. The order “lays the groundwork for introduction of LPFM stations into major urban markets for the first time” by establishing new channel-spacing standards and procedures for preventing and correcting interference, according the an FCC news release. The full text of the order is not yet available.
The order modifies the criteria the FCC uses to choose between competing LPFM applications by adding preferences for tribal nations serving tribal lands, for applicants who will maintain a staffed, local main studio, and for applicants who are new broadcast entrants. If all goes as planned, the FCC will open a new LPFM application window by October 15, 2013.
The order also resolves petitions asking the FCC to reconsider the caps it imposed in March 2012 on the number of FM translator applications the FCC will process for any one applicant. There are about 6,000 pending applications for FM translator stations, dating back to 2003. Under Friday’s order, an entity may apply for no more than 70 FM translators nationwide, and no more than 50 of those applications can be in the 156 larger markets identified by the FCC.