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Remembering Nick Leggett, LPFM Pioneer

Community radio lost an important man last month. Nick Leggett was an engineer, writer, amateur radio operator and inventor with many patents to his name. He also was one of the original proponents of low-power FM, who petitioned the FCC to create the service in the late 1990s as part of the Amherst Alliance, alongside attorney Don Schellhardt.

Schellhardt tells Radio World’s Paul McLane that Leggett died April 26 in Virginia after a long battle with cancer. McLane writes:

Schellhardt visited Leggett a couple of weeks prior to his death and said his friend remained “full of spirit and passion,” especially in opposition to “those who oppose basic civil liberties.”

Leggett’s wife Judith Fielder Leggett, an IT network engineer and signatory to the 1997 petition to the FCC (read it here), recently established The Nickolaus Leggett Memorial Fund; contributions are to be used to promote technological innovation. Radio World will post the link once available.

McLane’s full obituary tallies Leggett’s contributions to LPFM and op-eds for Radio World.

Nick was a strong proponent for a 10-watt class of LPFM so that stations could squeeze into particularly crowded radio dials to serve small geographic areas at a minimal cost. As recently as 2014 he petitioned the FCC to let rural LPFMs increase power to 250 watts, along with authorizing 50- and 20-watt stations in denser urban areas. While none of these additional power levels ever came to pass, his pioneering engineering work laid the groundwork for the greatest expansion of community radio ever.

I was saddened to hear of his passing, which brought back memories of that time when a coalition of public interest advocates came together to support the creation of a new community radio service. It was an ambitious effort, and nearly two decades later it’s hard to remember that there was no guarantee LPFM would come to pass, facing stiff opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters and even NPR.

I never had a chance to talk with Nick, though I interviewed his colleague Don several times for my “Mediageek” radio show. Looking through the archives I was reminded that both men also petitioned the FCC to create a low-power AM radio service, which the FCC opened up for public comment in 2005.

Obviously, we don’t have LPAM, either. Yet, it’s vitally important the people like Nick Leggett and Don Schellhardt do the hard work of making these proposals. Just like it wasn’t clear if a LPFM proposal would take off, only a time-traveler from the future knows if that next ambitious community-minded proposal will find its footing.

Goodbye, Nick, and thanks for all the stations.


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