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LPFM News: Petitions for Reconsideration; HD on LPFM?

There are just two new construction permits since last week’s LPFM Watch. Both are religious stations, in Adelanto, CA and Yuma, AZ. The holiday weekend probably slowed things down, but we’re also getting close to the next batch of MX groups of applicants competing for frequencies to be opened for resolution by the FCC.

Recall that there were more than 200 low-power FM applications associated with one person, Antonio Cesar Guel, raising suspicions amongst many in community radio, triggering informal objections, petitions to deny, along with an investigation by the FCC. A significant number of these applications were dismissed by the Commission, but on August 29 petitions for reconsideration were filed for eight of them in Appleton, WI, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA, Garland, TX, Pecos, TX, and Texarkana, TX. All were dismissed because the Commission was unable to confirm that applicants had proper assurance to use their proposed transmitter sites.

In a combined filing for all eight applicants, attorney Daniel J. Alpert argues that the dismissals should be reversed because the applicants themselves were not notified about the inquiries made to the site owners, and therefore they had no opportunity to defend themselves. He also submits sworn declarations that the proper site assurances had indeed been obtained prior to filing their original applications.

These declarations are statements from representatives of each applicant retelling discussions they had with tower operators. It should be noted that for four of these applicants it was Guel who contacted the tower owners and makes the declaration. In none of these declarations is there an indicator that the applicant had obtained a lease. Rather, in each case it appears they called a tower owner to confirm if there was availability.

This verbatim declaration from Guel on behalf of Seattle Community Radio is an example:

In mid-October 2013 I called King Broadcasting Company to ask for space in the tower. The person that answer my call said she was in the front desk. She tell me that they rent space on the tower but I had to speak to Deny Humble to enter into any lease for the tower. I didn’t call no more since we were still waiting for the approval of the FCC, so until that occurred, the client would have had no need to actually rent space on the tower.

Based on the forgoing, I believe that I acquired sufficient assurances for the use of the tower in the application I helped prepare for Seattle Community Radio.

I do not know if this qualifies as assurance according to the FCC, so we’ll have to wait for the Commission’s response.


Finally, a commentary published at Radio World last Thursday has caused a bit of a stir in LPFM circles. Radio engineer and broadcaster Dan Slentz proposes that low-power FM stations could go on the air using HD Radio. He writes that a station he advises, WDPE-LP in Dover/New Philadelphia, OH, has decided to launch “as what might be the first LPFM HD Radio station in the nation.”

Slentz addresses up front the reasons why HD hasn’t been adopted by LPFMs. First, the transmission equipment is much more expensive than analog, and includes an annual licensing fee to use the technology. Perhaps more importantly, only 10% of a station’s power can be used for the HD signal. Given that LPFM broadcasts with a maximum of 100 watts, he acknowledges that the resulting HD power level of no more than 10 watts “could barely ‘light a night light’.”

In fact, depending on geography, 10 watts might be good enough to cover a mile or two radius from your transmitter. In the middle of a town that signal on analog likely would reach quite a few listeners, given that nearly every household has at least one radio. But how many have HD radios? And if someone has an HD receiver, it’s probably in the car, which would travel in and out of the reception area within minutes.

Despite these considerable obstacles, Slentz outlines a number of ways that the three additional HD channels might be exploited by a station (although, in practice few stations use more than 2 of the subchannels). The most controversial of his proposals is that an LPFM might lease out the HD2 or HD3 channels for commercial broadcasting.

While LPFM is an explicitly noncommercial service, Slentz writes,

“This came as a huge surprise; but current rules do not prohibit this, according to Deputy Chief, Engineering, James Bradshaw of the FCC. He emphasized that this doesn’t mean the commission couldn’t change the rules later; but at this time there is nothing prohibiting this.”

Again, these would be 10 watt (at best), digital-only commercial signals.

This seems more like a thought experiment than a truly practical proposal, though it will certainly be interesting to hear from WDPE once the station starts transmitting in HD. In particular, it will be impressive if the station is able to find any takers willing to lease an HD subchannel, commercial or noncommercial.

What is more broadly concerning is the implication that any noncommercial station broadcasting HD Radio could run commercial programming on its subchannels. That would certainly appear to violate the very principle upon which the noncommercial band is based. But even with a full-power station, the value of leasing out an HD subchannel is strictly limited by the dearth of listeners with HD receivers. The very impracticality of such an arrangement probably means it’s not something to worry about.

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One Response to LPFM News: Petitions for Reconsideration; HD on LPFM?

  1. Jerry Drawhorn September 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Re. The Guel submissions: Doesn’t the very fact that a single lawyer and Guel responding that he made the contacts himself suggest that he’s orchestrating the license applications for these groups rather than a local applicant group? Or is this true of many other LPFM applications?

    RE: 10 Watt HD Transmission. Another aspect to the “commercial” use of the HD signals is that the groups themselves have to be non-profits. IF LEGAL, it seems to be a similar situation as a NCE using a carrier-current or internet link to carry commercial content. In the case of the latter they can even carry visual content (video, print ads, downloadable coupons, etc.). Can the HD signal carry visual content? Is there enough bandwidth for that?

    Maybe this would be something that would be useful if one wanted to restrict the broadcast to a particular area (a University campus) and provided two or three alternative channels…alternative, classical, jazz/blues?

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