Less is More

The FCC’s initial proposal for LPFM radio stations calls for 1000 watts of power as the highest level available. A second class of stations, called the LP-100, would broadcast with a maximum of 100 watts. Meanwhile, there’s a third class of proposed stations called the LP-10.
LP-10 stations are currently proposed as a secondary-type service, which means they could be forced to shut down at the near-whim of a higher-powered station. The plus side is that LP-10 licenses will be the least restrictive, which will allow for much more flexibility in programming, scheduling and economic needs of operation.
The scary thing is not the importance placed on such a type of service, but the silence to its proposal itself. Most comments filed so far have only dealt with the higher-wattage station classes, almost completely neglecting the LP-10.
When you file your comments on the LPFM proposal (and you will!), please make sure to include support for the LP-10 station class. Many seem to have forgotten just what potential it has. “Not enough coverage area to be useful,” says the power hogs and the aspiring LPFM-businessmen. “Not enough return for all the regulation,” says the NAB.
They are forgetting the nature of the broadcasters who will take to the air with LP-10 stations. Some may “serve the community” in a general sense, but many will take to the airwaves to simply express themselves. The lower the signal strength, the smaller the coverage area, and the more risks you can take with your programming – in a sense, an LP-10 license would be perfect for the “artistic broadcaster,” – who doesn’t view radio as a medium to inform, but as a canvas for aural art.
The most extreme case of this, so far, is the case of a poet in Philadelphia who covered four blocks with a small transmitter hooked up to a robotic voice machine which recited haikus. Calling it the “poetron,” he said it was his way of “making technology less threatening.”
But a “radio artist” could be anyone who uses the medium in ways it hasn’t been used conventionally. The most common example of this would be the “specialty station,” who broadcast niche formats of music that commercial and community stations can’t or won’t support.
Ideas like radio as art deserve their rightful place on the dial. It doesn’t necessarily want or need a lot of power to be heard, either.
While LP-10 license class may be the least-discussed, it’s the most easily defensible. It’s the only proposed station class against which the NAB’s “spectrum scarcity” argument doesn’t work. Handfuls of LP-10 stations can fit into the same market as one LP-1000 and generate the same amount of potential signal interference – even if you cut the number of allowable LP-10 stations in half to be conservative on spectrum usage, you’d still see an incredible amount of new stations available nationwide.
Due to their power and coverage areas, LP-10 stations would do the least harm to NAB-member station revenues, also nixing the “harmful competition” argument.
A station that covers a mile or two might not seem like a big deal, but it just might be the option that provides the oh-so-touted diversity of voices everyone is searching for. Don’t let it get lost in the shuffle.