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2015 in Review: LPFM Made it Community Radio’s Biggest Leap Forward

With regard to new stations going on the air, 2015 represented the biggest single-year leap forward for non-commercial and community radio in U.S. history. At the end of the year 524 new low-power FM stations had been fully licensed during the year. This represents a 68% increase in the overall number of LPFM stations compared to fourth quarter of 2013, the last accounting period before the FCC began issuing new construction permits from the 2013 application window.

To the best of my knowledge there is no reliable count of the number of community radio stations in the U.S., but in 25 years of watching this sector of radio I’ve never seen a one-year jump like that. We didn’t see this kind of increase during the first LPFM licensing window that began in 2000 because the process was rolled out more slowly, region-by-region, whereas the 2013 window encompassed the entire country, and the FCC was especially prolific in issuing construction permits in 2014.

To see this in action one needs only to do a news search on the term “low-power FM” and stand agog at how many new stations sign on every week.

Even so, 2016 could very well beat out 2015 in this race. There are still about 1030 valid construction permits for stations that have yet to go on air with a full license. Plus, there are yet another 100 or so applications still waiting to be processed. Unfortunately, some percentage of these construction permits will expire without a station being built. Nevertheless, it would be surprising should more than half of them expire in the next year.

Looking back over our weekly coverage of LPFM, here are some particularly notable stories:

  • LPFM stations in the Puget Sound region of Washington gathered at the Seattle Public Library to celebrate World Radio Day on February 13.
  • In February we also learned about an usual fight between the city of Woodstock, NY and a commercial radio station in that town over which gets to use the city’s name in the station’s name.
  • One Florida applicant was denied a LPFM permit over his alleged pirate past, while a church group in the same state beat accusations from a competing applicant that the church has been broadcasting illegally without a license.
  • A comment battle raged during the summer over REC Networks’ proposal to the FCC that the power limit for LPFM be raised to 250 watts.
  • Radio Survivor’s resident radio scholar, Brian Fauteux, interviewed Rutgers Professor Christina Dunbar-Hester about her new book on media activism and low power radio, Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism.
  • On August 20 scores of LPFM stations joined in celebrating National Radio Day.
  • In September a new Pagan-owned LPFM station in Palenville, NY hosted the 2015 Grassroots Radio Conference.
  • The FCC resolved a particularly heated competition for a frequency in Baltimore during September, with two colleges being amongst the applicants denied a permit.
  • Also in September, a new station in Minneapolis started broadcasting to the Somali diaspora in that city’s Little Mogadishu neighborhood. Minneapolis is home to one in three of all Somalis living in the U.S.
  • The Commission released its AM radio revitalization plan in October, giving stations on that dial the opportunity to purchase or build low-power translators on the FM dials. This affects potential future LPFMs because translators qualify for many of the same open frequencies.
  • Prometheus Radio Project won a grant from the Knight Foundation in November to create “LPFM Radio Impact Maps” to help stations better understand the propagation of their signal and the demographics of the people living in that area.
  • In December the FCC inaugurated a new “rocket docket” procedure to resolve a contentious battle over one low-power frequency in Philadelphia, somewhat more quickly than usual.

  • Believe it or not, these are just drops in the bucket of everything that happened in LPFM community radio in 2015. Be sure to read our LPFM Watch feature every Thursday, the only weekly low-power FM news coverage to be found anywhere.

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