Summing up the past year in LPFM is not difficult. We had the second-ever licensing opportunity, wherein 2780 applications for new community radio stations were submitted. While that was fewer than many advocates had predicted or hoped for, it’s undeniable that this licensing window will lead to a significant expansion in community radio in the US.
Thanks to REC Networks’ LPFM scorecard we know that so far the FCC has accepted 1298 applications (47%) for filing. It means these applications passed initial scrutiny for any glaring errors or failures and Audio Division staff are busying doing full reviews in order to assign construction permits. Another 356 applications, 12.8% of all submitted, have been dismissed for an assortment of reasons, like being technically unfeasible or having an unqualified applicant.
There are 245 applications that are connected to or prepared by one person, Antonio Cesar Guel of the Hispanic Christian Community Network. According to the rules, groups operating LPFM stations are supposed to be independent, having no ownership of or interest in another broadcast station, including other low-power ones. REC Networks has flagged these Guel applications as suspicious and filed an informal objection with the FCC because all of the applicants were organizations incorporated in Texas, with identical organization phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and educational statements. 25 of these applications were dismissed this week at the request of the applicant.
That leaves 1084 applications that are in so-called mutually exclusive (MX) groups and 42 that are received, but otherwise unprocessed. Applicants in MX groups are competing with others for the same frequency in their area. While the FCC has a point-based system for determining who gets the license in these situations, the Commission prefers that applicants work it out for themselves.
Amongst their options are modifying their applications so that they no longer compete or forging agreements with other applicants to share time on a frequency. An applicant might also check in to some of their competitors and bring to light any deficiencies in those other applications or anything else that seems fishy. I’d guess that many applicants in MX groups with Guel-associated applications are gathering their data.
Going forward in 2014 we should expect to start seeing construction permits from the FCC in the next month or two. A construction permit is authorization to start building a station, and that’s where the rubber meets the road for most successful applicants. It’s also when groups’ organizational and fundraising efforts really need to kick into high gear.
Although putting together a valid LPFM application is not joke in terms of time and effort, building and operating a station is an even larger enterprise. Support groups like Prometheus Radio Project, Common Frequency College Broadcasters Inc. have resources to assist groups in building their stations. However, the simple truth is that there will be more successful LPFM applicants than all these groups can provide individual help to.
The good news is that because this is the second time around for LPFM licensing, there is a lot more accrued expertise and experience out there. This year’s new stations shouldn’t have to build a new wheel the same way as the LPFM pioneers had to a decade ago. I hope that forums like the Radio Spark online community help new and veteran LPFM broadcasters hook up to exchange advice.
An Opportunity for Mutual Aid
This expansion of LPFM is great opportunity for mutual aid and networking. For instance, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters stemmed from the growth of community radio in the 1970s, as stations recognized they had common needs and interests.
While informal networking amongst LPFMs will be critical, it is increasingly clear that this class of stations could use to have its own federations or associations to represent their interests, in the same way that commercial and public broadcasters do. Existing support groups are already stretched pretty thin, so it’s unclear if they would be able to take on the additional organizational work. It might be better for new groups to come together to share the load and prevent over-reliance on a single organization. LPFM may indeed be stronger with a network of allied but independent federations.
As we did last year, in 2014 Radio Survivor will follow LPFM closely and do our best to support this vitally important build-out of community radio.
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