NPR Punts on Godcaster Proliferation

This week NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story on the plight of WAVM, a 10-watt FM radio station run by the local high school in Maynard, Massachusetts. The station stands to be forced off the air by Living Proof, Inc., an evangelical broadcast outlet based in California. WAVM is the only local radio station available in Maynard and enjoys wide community support.
NPR’s Andrea Shea got totally hoodwinked about the interloper kicking WAVM off the dial.
Shea set up WAVM’s vulnerable situation by mentioning the demise of the 10-watt Class D FM station license, calling WAVM one of the “predecessors of today’s low power FM stations.” She says the FCC did away with Class D licenses in the 1970s the after the FM band “became crowded.” Continue reading “NPR Punts on Godcaster Proliferation”

Low Power AM Petition for Rulemaking Accepted at FCC

RM-11287 is a multi-party petition that calls for the opening of the AM band to small broadcasters. Two of the five parties involved also filed the original petition for rulemaking that led to LPFM’s conception.
This has been a long time coming: citizen interest in LPAM has percolated since the 1990s, and there’s been open discussion of the idea since at least 2002. In 2003 a respected broadcast engineer submitted a proposal to the FCC which called for the creation of 30 and 100-watt “neighborhood radio” AM stations with 1-5 mile broadcast ranges. The FCC never formally acknowledged receipt of this document. In 2004 efforts were made to revive the proposal, to no avail. Building on these previous efforts with copious field experimentation led to the petition the FCC finally accepted.
RM-11287 attempts to differentiate LPAM from LPFM in several respects. The most significant is its commercial nature: LPAM seeks to “fill the current gap between small stations and megacorporations…where mid-sized businesses used to be” in the broadcast industry. Petitioners contend that while LPFM addresses a “community coverage gap” opened by the consolidation of radio since 1996, “[t]here remains, in radio and in other mass media industries, a separate, but similarly dangerous, ‘small business gap'” which “harms the nation by hindering economic growth and also by limiting the free flow of information and ideas.” It is proposed that one entity may own up to 12 LPAM stations nationally, although no more than one in any given market.
Multiple options are presented for the technical requirements of an LPAM service, with power levels ranging from 1 to 250 watts. All are geared toward keeping administration of the service simple. It is believed that under such conditions LPAM stations may provide opportunities for access to the airwaves that LPFM simply cannot: for example, according to cited analysis from REC Networks, metropolitan Detroit is currently off-limits to LPFM, but as many as four possible LPAM frequencies exist in the city.
Some components of the petition, like asking the FCC to make licensing decisions between competing applicants based on their proposed broadcast content, will simply not fly. And given that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to auction off all commercial broadcast licenses, implementation of the proposal as written would require the blessing of Congress. But the fact that the FCC is at least open to a rudimentary level of discussion about LPAM is encouraging. Comments on RM-11287 are due in mid-November (on or around November 20).

Transmission Arts: Open Call

From the fine folks at free103point9, who continue their ambitious exploration of sonic wireless technology:
free103point9 and Rhizome are pleased to announce a collaborative call for web-based works that explore transmission as a medium for creative expression. Projects should practically and/or conceptually incorporate transmission themes and tools. Applicants are encouraged to visit free103point9’s online Study Center resource for historical, technical, and cultural reference materials on Transmission Art.
Damn you, grad school…

Radio4All Funding Crunch Redux

To those who may pooh-pooh the ability to run an incredibly successful public service on no budget, look no further than the A-Infos Radio Project. For more than seven years Radio4All has provided a repository for an amazing amount of aural information and charged its users nothing for the service. Since the mainstream arrival of the anti-corporate globalization movement the service has found itself under increasing demand, which now amounts to ~30,000 users per month.
Over the years Radio4All’s also weathered an amazing amount of crises, including emergency storage upgrades and bandwidth increases. Bandwidth alone now costs some $500 per month, and now its hosting provider wants those payments tendered quarterly. According to Radio4All co-founder and co-maintainer Shawn Ewald, “right now, our current balance will only cover this month’s bill.” There may be lots of sites out there offering similar services now, but none were developed in such bottom-up fashion and none have attracted the amount and quality of content as Radio4All.

Free103point9 Goes Country

Not so much in the format sense as locationally: the NYC-based radio-as-canvas collective is opening up action on a second front. It’s two and a half hours upstate, on 30 acres of woodland! Dubbed the Wave Farm, it “will host occasional performances, as well as an artist residency program called AIRtime.”
The Wave Farm opens July 4th with Tune(Out))) Side, an afternoon and evening of 50 performers on five frequencies. Later in the month is Campfire Sounds, “a weekend of avant folk.” In August the Wave Farm will host workshops devoted to “broadcasting/webcasting, performing with video, organic gardening, and music improvisation,” catering to both kids and adults.
It might very well be the first ever incubator devoted specifically to the transmission arts. Sounds like a special place in the making.

Audio Content-Sharing as Business Model

There’s a couple of interesting non-profit ventures trying to master the business of connecting audio content providers with broadcasters and/or the listening masses. Using the internet as distribution platform to circumvent traditional radio network models is not new, but making a marketplace out of it is fairly so.
Public Radio Exchange has been working at it the longest. The service came of age in 2004; users of the system pay a yearly fee to upload and market their work. Broadcasters purchase rights to air pieces via a system of points, which are redeemed for cash, paid out by PRX on a quarterly basis. The system’s gotten some limited but favorable press and seems to be enjoying fairly wide adoption among those who work in or on contract to public radio. Continue reading “Audio Content-Sharing as Business Model”

Religious Broadcasting As Franchise Operation

While the proliferation of FM translator stations by religious broadcast groups arguably constitutes spectrum abuse, it’s just one perspective on a larger problem. Religious broadcasters are not only snapping up translator channels on which real community LPFM stations might have been sited, they’re also engaged in LPFM broadcasting.
A recent SF Chronicle story illustrates how Calvary Chapel organizes LPFM station affiliate growth:
This month, the Calvary Chapel Radio Ministry of Costa Mesa in Orange County hosted 170 mostly Christian low-power broadcasters, offering them operational tips as well as up to “16 hours per day, seven days a week” of programming beamed in via satellite, according to its Web site. Continue reading “Religious Broadcasting As Franchise Operation”

LPFM Miscellany

An update to a story earlier this week: the United Church of Christ’s documentary, LPFM: The People’s Choice, is most definitely an optional-carry program for NBC affiliates. This is evidenced by the fact that less than two dozen stations have agreed to broadcast it so far – some of whom won’t actually play it until next year. There is a link on the UCC site marked “click here to view the video (RealVideo)” but I can’t get it to work (after trying two different browsers).
While the LPFM service itself seems to be stuck in limbo (no new station application windows on the horizon, S. 2505 dead in the water), the FCC may be planning a publicity stunt of sorts. It seems that an “LPFM Day” is in the works, where LPFM advocates and people with stations will come to the FCC and show off some of their gear as well as tell stories of what LPFM stations have done for their communities. All well and good, but no substitute for actual service growth. Continue reading “LPFM Miscellany”

Bad News (Double Dose)

The first is the FCC’s decision to set aside an earlier ruling that suspended approval for an Oregon commercial radio station to move closer to Seattle – a move which will force Mercer Island High School’s KMIH-FM off the air. The set-aside effectively puts the school’s station back in the gallows.
KMIH General Manager Nick DeVogel says, “This decision is ripe for reconsideration and appeal, and we implore the Commission to do just that.” Continue reading “Bad News (Double Dose)”