My weekly streaming radio program, The Road Trip, will be on hiatus until September. I’ll be moving it to this website, and the links for listening will be added to the right sidebar. I’ll make an announcement here when it’s ready to go again.
Back in 2008…
I decided this town would be a good fit for a small town radio station, much like the one portrayed on the TV series Northern Exposure. Later my friend Daoine O’ became a DJ at the station near her small town. I got to see the studio and even trekked up a mountain side to the transmitter. I was inspired.
So I set out writing my congress critters, pleading with them to pass the bill that had been lingering for years in their committees. The bill was to reverse a law that stopped new LPFM stations from being authorized (long story, short). It took years for the bill to finally get passed in 2011 and signed by President Obama. Now the FCC is busy trying to make sense of the bill and adjust their rules accordingly.
Yar! Ahoy me hearties!
Unbeknownst to me, probably in 2010, a couple of people from town simply put together a studio, put up a pirate transmitter someplace and voila, they’re on the air and streaming. They’ve had in-studio guests and broadcast live from various venues in town. It has a local vibe to it. I admire them and the simplistic route they took to start a station without all of the bureaucracy and regulations of the government. They are not interfering with any other radio signals. They are polite pirates.
Is it a community radio station? Not quite. Members of the community interested in doing a radio show, can’t. Also, it’s only live on the weekends. As far as I can tell, weekdays are just pre-programmed with a playlist of music. I’ve tried contacting them, but haven’t received any replies.
At the beginning of the year, my friend Jacob asked for my help in setting up a podcasting studio in his home. We picked out equipment, set it up, tested it, and now I’m the recording engineer for the bi-weekly podcast Radio Golden. This was my introduction to podcasting in general and through him I was introduced to other podcasts to listen to. One of my favorites so far is Radiolab.
Last summer I started streaming my own weekly radio program called Road Trip. It’s not a podcast yet, you have to listen to it live on Friday evenings. To stream this program requires no bureaucracy or government approval.
Is anybody out there?
I wrote a letter to the local newspaper calling for people interested in starting a radio station to contact me. The response was lukewarm. I received about four replies, most of them wanting to have their own radio show. But no one seems very enthusiastic about trying to work through the bureaucracy of actually making the station a reality.
There is a lot that has to be done:
- A non-profit corporation has to be formed. Only a non-profit can apply for a LPFM community radio license. This involves writing up articles of incorporation, writing bylaws, and submitting various forms to the state, along with fees.
- I need to find people who are willing to serve on the board of directors of the non-profit, and they have to reside within 10 miles of the transmitter (a proposed rule the FCC is considering).
- An application has to be submitted to the IRS to be tax exempt, along with a fee.
- A preliminary site has to be selected for the transmitter, as well as a frequency. This will require permission from a landowner to to place the transmitter on the property.
- An application has to be submitted to the FCC, plus another fee. The window for accepting applications is usually very short, only a week long, and will occur this summer. Who knows when/if there will be another window anytime soon.
If the FCC application is approved, there is even a longer list of stuff that needs to be done, more applications, fund raising to pay for equipment, etc. If only four people responded to my call for volunteers, what’s fundraising going to be like?
Lying awake at night
I’m not the kind of person who likes bureaucracy. (I can’t even spell it.) I see the simplicity of using the internet as a means of audio transmission and I wonder if it’s the future. I ask myself, why do I want to jump through a bunch of hoops and pay a bunch of fees just to satisfy some romantic notion I have of radio? While I have some friends who are supportive of my radio station idea, I don’t know enough locals who are enthused enough to really bond over the idea, to keep the momentum going while getting through the bureaucracy. It needs to be a team effort and there is no team.
If I scrap the traditional radio idea, I will also scrap the community radio idea. If I go with the internet transmission method, then I’m going to join up with my music geeking friends and create a station that is not tied to location. For all the fees I would have paid with submitting various government applications, I can buy each of them mics and mixers. That would be just as fun as my old romantic notion of radio.
When I was a kid, I broadcasted music into my youngest brother’s room. A little later, I broadcasted to the neighborhood kids who were within about 100 feet of where I lived. When I got out of high school, I applied for a job at a radio station (didn’t get it). Later I became a DJ that played for parties and for evening cruises on a boat. Now I want to start a small radio station here in town. It’s apparent to me it’s been a life-long ambition.
A couple of weeks ago Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act of 2010. The original intent of the bill was to reverse the changes that Congress did with the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act of 2000 (which of course sounds very charitable, like a good thing, but really just preserves Big Radio).
To recap this tale, the FCC started a new radio service in the late 1990’s called Low-Power FM (LPFM). These types of stations have a broadcast range of about 5 miles. In 2000, the big radio corporations convinced our Congress that these tiny stations were causing undue interference with them. Congress reacted by drastically reducing the number of stations that could fit on the radio dial. This effectively prevented any new LPFM stations. The interference claims were later found to be false. For the past 6 years, there have been bills introduced in Congress to reverse the preservation act, and finally an amended version has passed.
The amended version is only a slight improvement to the preservation act that existed before. Yet everyone is patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
Today, I was ready to get the ball rolling. The odds of actually getting a license are slim, but I decided that it’s worth a try. I wrote a letter to the local newspaper, inviting those interested in starting a radio station to contact me. After I wrote the letter I read the text of the final bill that passed. Now I think I’ll wait before sending it until I can do some more research into the technical caveats of the bill.
LPFM licenses are only granted to community non-profit groups. So the first thing that has to happen is a non-profit corporation has to be formed. Then some engineering work has to be done to figure out the location of the transmitter, choose the frequency and power levels. Then an application is submitted to the FCC, where it’s either accepted or rejected. All of that can be done without much monetary investment.
But my big concern with this bill is what happens next. We get our license and our organization goes out and raises money for studios and transmitting equipment. We begin transmitting. And with a single day’s notice, we can be shut down by the FCC for a bogus interference claim filed by one of the Big Radio stations. What’s worse is that the bill provides for “informal” complaints, which sounds to me like unsubstantiated claims of interference. Now look at all of the time and money wasted.
This is the final bill that passed both the House and the Senate: HR 6533 (the third link down).
I had read an earlier version a couple of weeks ago, and was troubled by much of the language in the bill. The final bill is even worse, particularly sections 3 and 7. Congress isn’t qualified to be setting technical/engineering policies for the FCC. It’s obvious that most of the language in the bill was created by the National Association of Broadcasters and other Big Radio lobbyists. The FCC already has plenty of applicable interference resolution rules and procedures, but this bill needlessly makes those even more convoluted and does whatever it can to favor Big Radio.
I need refresh my knowledge of the distance requirements between stations with the caveats listed in section 3, and do at least a preliminary analysis of whether it’s even possible to have a station here.
Why am I doing this? Oh yeah. The dream.
Is radio dead? Does anyone listen anymore? That’s the subject of another post.