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Pacifica’s KPFK to try unlicensed radio

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On the heels of my post about FCC enforcement of “legal” low-power AM broadcasting, I learn that Pacifica plans to jump into the LPAM arena. The plan is for Pacifica’s Los Angeles station KPFK to serve its Spanish-speaking audience with a network of Part 15 LPAM stations deployed strategically in Latino neighborhoods. According to a recent Radio World article, the LPAM plan is to compensate for the fact that KPFK only has 24 hours in a broadcast day, already split amongst many different types of programming, but with an apparently strong audience for its three hours of Spanish programming a night.

Networks of LPAM stations have been tried before. Perhaps the most prominent was Allston-Brighton Free Radio, a Massachusetts station that started out as a 20 watt unlicensed FM before going Part 15 LPAM. The station has been mostly defunct since 2003, but that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t a good one.

Rather, given the limited broadcast range of LPAM stations I think it shows that it’s difficult to keep a full schedule of volunteer DJs motivated and the station funded. Therefore KPFK’s idea of using LPAMs to rebroadcast a stream of already existing Spanish programming seems more sensible. According to RW the cost of a transmitter setup is just $850 — it likely will cost more to feed the station a good audio feed. KPFK program director Alan Minsky tells RW that the station won’t produce more Spanish programming. Instead it will rebroadcast its current Spanish block supplemented by programming from other sources.

However, I suspect that the FCC might pay a little more attention to a prominent licensed station messing around with unlicensed AM transmitters. Commission field agents will probably want to confirm that those transmitters are fully compliant with Part 15 regs.

This should be a very interested experiment to watch when it gets off the ground.

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