What is LPFM?
LPFM stands for Low Power FM radio broadcasting. In the United States, the lowest minimum wattage a licensed FM radio station may have is 100 watts. There are lower-power FM transmitters in use, though, by some stations who want to increase their coverage area by extending their signal. These are called translators or boosters.
While these may only have a wattage measured in a range from dozens to hundreds, they are not true broadcast stations by the FCC’s definitions – they do not originate their own programming. They rely on a “parent” station to provide what they air.
Ham (amateur) radio uses a similar system called a repeater; people don’t broadcast from it. They shoot a signal into it, and then it gets re-broadcast to an area larger than what ham operators might reach with their own gear. In a nutshell, translators and boosters are the repeaters of FM radio.
LPFM is the common term used to define an FM broadcast station that originates its own programming but has the power of a translator or booster. Under current FCC rules, operating such a station is simply not allowed. You may also see LPFM referred to by other terms – like “LPRS,” “microradio,” and “mini-FM,” but they all mean the same thing. Continue reading “The History of LPFM”
Yesterday the FCC issued a Report and Order formally allowing AM radio stations to use FM translators to rebroadcast their signals.
The idea was first proposed nearly three years ago, and over the last 18 months or so the FCC’s quietly been allowing AM stations to apply for translators to “fill in” existing gaps in their coverage areas. These gaps have been caused by the general degradation of the AM band, due to electromagnetic or radio-frequency interference (RFI) from a growing myriad of electronic devices and skywave signals from stronger co- or adjacent-channel stations. Continue reading “FCC: AM Stations Get FM Translators”
Late last week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the National Association of Broadcasters’ appeal to have FCC-tweaks made over the years to the LPFM service thrown away. In a nutshell, the NAB claimed that the FCC’s moves to make LPFM stations more equal to others on the dial, and to provide remedial efforts in the case where an LPFM’s existence is in jeopardy by another (larger) station, overstepped the statutory bounds of the LPFM service as dictated by Congress in 2001.
In an 18-page ruling, the D.C. Circuit basically tells the NAB to stuff it: “Congress did not intend to restrain the Commission’s authority to respond to new circumstances potentially threatening LPFM stations other than with respect to third-adjacent channel minimum separation requirements.” Administratively, the Court could find no grounds to back the NAB’s objections. Radio World says the trade organization “is studying the decision and its options,” but the smart money is this horse is dead. Continue reading “LPFM: Offensive and Defensive Victories”
Going to try to ease back into the swing of things, though there’s still a lot of non-site work in my life right now still going on. But just a few notes to let you know I’m still alive:
1. Good friend and collagist extraordinaire rx has released an eight-minute trailer of his latest magnum opus – a remix-documentary of the 2008 presidential election. rx isn’t a big fan of deadlines (especially those self-imposed), but he tells me the full doc should be ready for public viewing hopefully by the end of this year or early next. Continue reading “Catch-Up Notes of Miscellany”
Interesting samples abound about what the U.S. radio industry thinks about its digital future. When you thread them all together, you find a spot of chaos.
Late August, 2008: Stop IBOC Now!, a coalition of broadcast engineering professionals and listeners, publishes a 10-page list of comments from people within and outside the industry. This list is apparently a sampling of more than 200 received by the coalition to-date. All but one are negative on HD Radio. Continue reading “HD Radio and Industry Schizophrenia”
As lobbying over the conditions of the merger between the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks entered the home stretch, iBiquity Corporation and the National Association of Broadcasters requested that the Federal Communications Commission mandate all future satellite radio receivers to be interoperable with terrestrial digital AM and FM broadcasts.
This was a move by HD Radio‘s proponents to try and get something for nothing. XM and Sirius both subsidized the adoption of satellite radio receivers, especially in vehicles, by making the reception technology freely available and offering special deals to new subscribers (such as free service for a year or more, especially for folks who bought new cars and trucks with a satellite radio receiver as an option). In contrast, iBiquity Corporation wants those who make and market HD radio to pay it a cut from every HD receiver sold – effectively asking auto companies to partially pay the way for HD’s adoption. This is a proposal that nearly all have resisted. Continue reading “Sirius/XM Merger Sidebar”
At last month’s NAB Radio Show, a representative of the Audio Services Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau disclosed that, even though the agency hasn’t yet taken action on a proposed rulemaking that would allow AM radio stations to utilize FM translators to supplement their coverage areas (a terrible idea, for several reasons), FCC staff are already implementing this “policy.”
How is this possible? The unnamed staffer revealed that all AM broadcasters must do is apply for special temporary authority to run FM translator stations, and, after cursory review, the FCC will let them go ahead and invade the FM dial. Continue reading “Back Door to AM Station/FM Translator Incest Wide Open”
Last month, a consultant engineer hired by the National Association of Broadcasters filed comments with the FCC in opposition to the proposed merger of the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks. These comments stressed the unique transmission and reception infrastructure of each satellite system and pronounced them inherently incompatible. The consultant, Dennis Wallace, asserts (among other things) that the variation in the orbital paths of XM and Sirius satellites, combined with a host of differences involving how the networks encode and compress their digital signals for broadcast, makes each company’s distribution infrastructure nearly impossible to consolidate without “significant disruption” to satellite radio service more generally.
This assertion is belied by two fundamental facts. The first is that XM and Sirius do not serve their subscribers primarily via satellite; instead they use a network of ground-based repeater-transmitters. In most cases, XM/Sirius listeners are not listening to signals directly from space, but instead to a signal bounced from the ground to space and back down again, then rebroadcast from gear bolted to some rented space on a cell phone tower nearby. It doesn’t matter what the difference in XM and Sirius satellites’ orbital paths are – so long as one satellite can “see” the United States (and XM’s constellation is in geostationary orbit), the repeaters will be served, and hence the listeners. Continue reading “Good Cop/Bad Cop: The NAB and Satellite Radio”
I’ve long respected the opinion of Guy Wire, the pseudonym for a “veteran radio broadcast engineer” who writes regularly for Radio World, an excellent source of industry news. Hiding behind a pen name has given Guy Wire the balls over time to speak unpopular truths about the radio industry.
Which is why I was somewhat disappointed in his latest column, where he praises the National Association of Broadcasters’ plans to flood the FM dial with more translator stations that will do nothing more than simulcast AM radio stations.
Guy paints the plan as prudent, allowing neglected and beleaguered AM broadcasters to finally have “real relief” from increased interference and noise on the AM band. He says AM radio is “under siege,” with “far too many marginal stations with dwindling audiences and revenues.” Continue reading “Guy Wire Pimps NAB Translator Invasion”
A very intriguing Petition for Rulemaking was recently filed by the National Association of Broadcasters. It asks the FCC to let the owners of AM stations apply for FM translators, so that they may rebroadcast their AM signals to provide better service, especially at night, when many AM stations must operate at reduced power or go off the air completely. NAB believes the FCC needs to give a much-needed “boost” to the lot of these beleaguered stations.
The FCC has considered and rejected this very notion twice in the last 25 years, but NAB thinks the third time is the charm because of new sources of interference to the AM band. What new sources? Computers and traffic signals are mentioned, but a footnote otherwise plugging digital radio casually drops the comment that AM broadcasters are “encountering ever more interference problems as a result of an increase in ambient noise.” Continue reading “NAB Seeks FM Translator-Grab for AM Stations”