A normal FM station transmits at thousands of watts. This level of power means that the station needs lots of expensive transmitting equipment, as well as a fairly substantial antenna. It might cost in the range of a million dollars to get a basic FM station on the air at this level of power, and it can cover an entire urban area.
That level of investment has several side effects. First, only a business entity or an extremely wealthy individual can afford to create an FM station, and the station must, of necessity, be driven by business logic in order to cover the high operating costs. This limits creativity and makes it difficult for small organizations or individuals to get air time.
The LPFM station is designed to let individuals and small organizations own and operate radio stations for a wide variety of not-for-profit reasons. In this sense, the FCC is trying to bring station creation closer to normal people -- in the same way that anyone can create a Web page. It's not quite that simple, but at least they are headed in the right direction.
An LPFM station is a 10-watt or 100-watt transmitter. This level of power gives the station a range of approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km). A transmitter this size and its antenna might cost $2,000 to $5,000. In a city, the range of an LPFM transmitter can encompass lots of people, and it can completely cover an entire neighborhood or community area. The owner/operators of low-power FM radio stations could include, among others:
- Religious groups
- Local neighborhoods
- Amusement parks
- PTA-sponsored school stations for parents picking up or dropping off children
- Ethnic organizations wanting to create foreign language programming
- Race track pit and parking areas, as an extension to a public address system
- Universities too new or previously unable to get a full-power license
- Movie-theater schedule information
- Interstate highway rest stops
- High schools
Information about low-power FM radio stations is available at the FCC Web site. The FCC considers community service and proposed programming when granting applications.
Maybe some day you can become a "micro-broadcaster"!
These links will help you learn more:
- FCC: Low Power Broadcast Radio Stations
- Low Power FM
- Rogue Radio Research Links
- Micropower Broadcasting - A Technical Primer
- How Radio Works
- How the Radio Spectrum Works
- How Internet Radio Works
- How Ham Radio Works
- Why do all FM radio stations end in an odd number?