REC Networks: Low Power FM: Generation 3 Filing Window
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Costs

The bottom line here is...

LPFM is not cheap

For some organizations that filed in past filing windows, the excitement of a new radio station and getting the construction permit was eventually overshadowed by the "sticker shock" of the costs involved in both constructing and operating a station.  That has forced some LPFM grantees to just allow their construction permits to lapse and not build or have to resort to illegal activities such as running commercials or selling airtime just to keep the station on the air.  It is not as simple as just putting up an antenna, running a cable into the building and just plugging in a cheap box the price of a CB radio, and you have an instant radio station. Nonprofit organizations need to be aware of the costs involved in bringing radio to their community before considering pursuing the license.  We will discuss some of those costs that will be involved and some basic budget that you may need to consider.

Required equipment

Transmitter

LPFM has very specific rules regarding the acceptability of the FM transmitter used in the service.  These rules exist to assure that transmitters operated by LPFM stations are stable, comply with various requirements regarding the technical standards for FM radio and most importantly do not cause interference to other broadcast stations and even more importantly, to other safety of life communications such as airwaves used for aviation safety.  To assure the quality and safety of the broadcast signal, the FCC requires that all transmitters used in the LPFM service must have an FCC certification number on a label affixed to the transmitter.  This label will have "FCC ID" followed by the assigned FCC certification ID code.  These codes can be looked up at the FCC or at third party sites.  REC Networks does maintain a list of known certified transmitters that can be used in the LPFM service. 

In most cases, you are going to want to find a certified FM transmitter that is capable of 300 watts.  There are several manufacturers that make these transmitters.  We would suggest that you budget about $5,000 for a certified transmitter, although you may find them for less.  Purchase your transmitter either directly from the manufacturer or through a reputable dealer like BSW or SCMS.   Kit built transmitters or most FM transmitters sold on e-commerce websites like Amazon.com and eBay, especially from Chinese companies are not certified for LPFM use, which can lead to enforcement action as well as can endanger safety.  Sometimes, LPFM stations may receive a donation of a "hand me down" transmitter previously used on another broadcast station.  Other broadcast services do not have the same certification rules as LPFM.  Even if a transmitter is "FCC type accepted", "FCC type verified" or there is a "Supplier's Declaration of Conformity"; if it does not have the FCC ID label on it, it can't be used for LPFM, period. 

Emergency Alert System (EAS)

EAS is a program that is administrated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  It is a system that is used to notify citizens of a national level emergency.  In addition, all states have invoked their own state EAS plans to notify citizens of statewide and local emergencies.  Installing and maintaining a certified EAS unit with a minimum of decode capabilities is required for all LPFM stations.  The EAS unit uses two radio receivers tuned to either AM, FM or National Weather Service channels to receive alerts.  The stations the EAS decoder must monitor are specified in your state's EAS Plan that is normally maintained by your state's Office of Emergency Services or similar agency.  Your EAS decoder must monitor those assigned stations and therefore you may need to have either an indoor or outdoor receive antenna to pick up those stations.  If your LPFM is in a location where those assigned stations cannot be heard, then you need to get a written waiver from your state's emergency coordinator who will determine which stations you can use and specify those stations in the waiver.  A properly installed EAS will actually break into the LPFM station's audio to carry the alert.  A part of the national EAS system utilizes the Internet.  Therefore, the EAS must be connected to the internet.  Your EAS must be equipped with a software version which the manufacturer deems as being currently compliant.  Some manufacturers will charge for major software updates.  EAS decoders will also need a security certificate file, which is updated more often.  These can normally be downloaded from the EAS manufacturer and in most cases are provided at no charge.  

For a certified EAS decoder, we recommend that you budget about $4,000 that would include the costs for the EAS decoder, a receive antenna and if necessary, any radio receivers.  EAS decoders, such as the DASDEC already have the required radio receivers integrated into the unit.  LPFM stations are responsible for periodically consulting the logs generated by the decoder to assure that weekly and monthly tests are being received by all monitoring sources (the two radio stations and the internet). 

Antenna and tower structure

This is one part of the equation that you should not purchase until you know exactly what you have been approved for.  The type of antenna that you will need will depend on various technical factors.  In some cases, you may be able to get away with a simple $250 vertical antenna mounted about 20 feet above the roof may suffice but in other cases, you may be required to construct a larger antenna in order to properly protect other broadcast stations.  In many cases, the antenna may need to be installed at a minimum height and may require multiple antennas (bays) vertically stacked.  For cases where the specific types of antenna is not an issue to meet interference guidelines, REC recommends an antenna of a two bay, circular polarized design such as the Nicom BKG-77, Nicom BKG-88 or Shively 6812c.  These antennas will require about 15 to 20 feet of vertical space on the tower or mounting pole.  For something like this, you may want to budget out about $1,700 for the antenna and then additional budget will be necessary for the mounting structure, whether it is a tower or mast.  It is very difficult to provide a single budget amount for that, but that is something that applicants will need to seriously look at.

Leased tower sites

Sometimes, LPFM stations may be able to use existing tower sites.  While sometimes, you can get into a "sweetheart" deal with a tower owner who may allow the antenna to be mounted on the tower, you may need to resort to using commercial tower space leasing companies such as American Tower, SBA Towers or Crown Castle.  These companies normally deal with big wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon and with big broadcast companies like iHeart.  For small customers like an LPFM organization, they may request a deposit and insurance up front. For the installation, you may be limited to using their approved installers.  In addition, electricity, rack space in the transmitter room and internet access may be extra costs.  There are substantial complications for LPFM stations wanting to mount their antenna on the tower of an operating AM radio station.  Of course, we had not mentioned the monthly rate for maintaining the antenna there.  For leased towers, the up-front costs can run into the thousands, and monthly lease payments can be in the hundreds to low thousands based on the tower's location.  

Other studio equipment

Of course, your station will need the basics for a studio if they do not have them already.  This includes microphones, a mixing console, audio equipment and to assure a good unattended operation at times when no one is in the studio, a playout computer and automation software.  Checking retailers like BSW and SCMS may give you some insight to what is needed here.  For a playout computer, this can be done with an older computer running Linux and using Rivendell radio automation software, which is highly recommended by REC.  Rivendell is open source and therefore, free.  A company called Paravel Systems can provide a turnkey Rivendell experience at a cost.  What you install, how it is installed and who will do the installing will vary totally on a balance of your organization's needs, your organization's experience and your organization's budget.   If the studio and the transmitter are in separate locations, then you need a method to get the station's audio from the studio to the transmitter.  This will require equipment, such as that manufactured by Barix to deliver the audio source.  You could probably budget about $800 for a pair of Barix boxes.

Application preparation and filing

First and foremost, because LPFM is considered a noncommercial educational broadcast service, there are no fees paid to the FCC for the filing of any application.

If someone knows what they are doing and the situation is not complex (such as needing a second-adjacent channel waiver or proposing a station on a tower shared with other broadcast stations), an applicant may elect to do the application themselves, but you are on your own and can reduce the chances of getting a grant.  However, it is very highly recommended that you get hired help and get a consultant who actually knows the specifics of the LPFM service.  Not all consultants and engineers truly know LPFM, and in the past, many applications have been denied for that reason. Some consultants charge by the hour and others, like REC charge by the task.  Michelle Bradley, CBT of REC (the operators of this site) has had experience in the LPFM service for over 20 years, even before the service was created.  She is also the national regulatory advocate for the LPFM service and as a result, wrote some of the LPFM service rules that became federal regulations.  So in some ways, REC wrote the book on LPFM.  While REC provides advocacy for the service, we are reliant on donations as well as revenue from filing applications for LPFM and other broadcast stations.  REC uses many tools and methods that were specifically designed for LPFM that are not used elsewhere.  For a new LPFM construction permit, REC's fees can run from $1,000 to $2,000 based on the complexity of the situation. You can click here to view REC's Rate Card for this filing window.    We strongly suggest you finish reading all of the information on this site and then filling out a show of interest form to file in the next LPFM filing window.

For most original construction permit applications, retaining an attorney is not necessary.  Retaining an attorney is only necessary if your organization is filing as an "unincorporated association" (highly, not recommended), if more than 20% of your board members are not United States citizens ("green cards" and TPS are not considered US citizens) or if during the application process, another party objects to the application.  If necessary, REC can refer specific issues to a qualified attorney who actually knows LPFM (not all attorneys do).  But at the outset, you do not need an attorney.  For government, tribal and public educational institutions that maintain a general counsel, REC can work with your attorney to assure that the organization's needs are met and that FCC regulations are being followed as very few in-house counsel has specific experience on communications law.  Michelle Bradley is not an attorney but has consulted attorneys in the past on many occasions.

Operational costs

Once the money has been shelled out to build the station, now you need to run the station, which has its own share of ongoing operating costs that need to be realized.  

Power

To run a station, you need electricity.  So there will be power costs.  At the studio, you will need to account for the increased power costs for all of the audio equipment and the playout computer plus the lights and other aspects of any kind of office environment that runs on electricity.  For the transmitter, your electric costs will depend on how much effective radiated power (ERP) the LPFM station is authorized for.  Your station's authorized ERP in many cases will be 100 watts, but that can be reduced based on Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT).  HAAT is measured by determining the average of all ground elevations taken at 400 points between 2 and 10 miles from the transmitter site and then adding in the height above ground.  If that calculated HAAT is more than 30 meters (about 98 feet), then the power will need to be reduced.  The actual power from the transmitter will be based on the type of antenna used as well as the length and quality of the feedline (the wire from the transmitter to the antenna).  Many stations authorized 100 watts ERP may run a single circular polarized antenna, which in those cases, may result in the transmitter being set between 250 and 300 watts.  Some antennas, such as inexpensive vertical antennas and very large multi-bay antennas may exhibit gain.  In those cases and depending on the feedline, may result in a transmitter power output more closer to the 100 watt level.  The power consumed is based on the output power that the transmitter is set at.  REC can work with you to determine what your ERP and transmitter power output would be for a certain installation.

Internet Access

At the bare minimum, internet access is required for the EAS decoder.  If the transmitter is at a site other than the studio, then internet access may be necessary in order to send the programming to the transmitter.  Your organization may already have internet access at the studio location and if that is the case, it should be OK as long as it can properly handle the bandwidth.  Make sure you use a terrestrial based internet service such as the local cable company, fiber or DSL.  Avoid using wireless providers, "wi-fi providers" or satellite internet as they may not be able to handle the constant bandwidth and connection needed to stream audio content to the transmitter.  Some providers may have a cap on the amount of data you can use per month, so be mindful of that.  If necessary, consider a "business grade" internet access service.  Rates for services vary, so you will need to shop locally. 

Music Licensing

Most music played over the radio is copyrighted. Radio stations that play music over the air, whether they are commercial or noncommercial must pay royalties to use that music.  While radio is currently statutorily exempt from paying royalties to the recording industry (although legislation may change this), radio stations, including LPFM must pay royalties to the song writers and composers.  There are three major performing rights organizations (PROs), ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.  Each of them have their own repertories and each support specific artists. To assure that most of the music you play is covered, it is best to obtain licenses with all three PROs.  The royalty rates change every year but they are regulated by the US Copyright Royalty Board and LPFM stations have a specific rate schedule. To play it safe and to future proof annual increases, it may be wise to budget about $1,000 per year for on-air music licensing.  It is important to remember though, that licenses from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC obtained for radio airplay do not cover streaming the station on the internet.

For LPFM stations that want to stream their stations on the internet, the specific ASCAP, BMI and SESAC licenses described above do not allow for that.  Instead, you have to obtain separate licenses from each of the three PROs for streaming.  In addition to paying the three PROs, streaming stations also have to pay SoundExchange.  SoundExchange represents the recording industry.  There are different SoundExchange licenses for LPFM stations that are licensed to schools and operated by students as well as LPFM stations that have an arrangement with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, which REC highly recommends joining.  Normally, for a streaming station, you may need to budget another $1,000 or more per year on top of the over the air royalties to also cover streaming.  Stations expecting a very low amount of streaming hours per month may want to consider using services like Live365, which can provide streaming, coupled with music licensing for as low as $59 per month.  This would be on top of what you would pay the 3 PROs for on-air licensing as explained in the previous paragraph. 

Websites, Social Media, Mobile Apps and Streaming

While not required, LPFM stations with a website have more visibility and can cement a bigger bond with their community.  Having a station website also avoids the need to pay to appear on newspaper or other publicly accessible websites for required FCC public notices during the initial application phase.  Radio stations are no longer required to purchase advertising in the newspaper for FCC required public notices.  There are some providers that may provide free websites with advertising or you may get hosting from many providers.  If the nonprofit already has a website, that site can be used for required public notices and a section of the website can be dedicated to the radio station.  When considering this, you will need to take into consideration any monthly costs of hosting as well as any one time or regular fees for web designers.  Social media (like Facebook) is also a great way to connect with listeners and there are normally no fees to set up a social media page for the station.  Social media cannot be used for FCC required public notice messages during the application phase.  Some stations with experts use their existing internet connections and operate their own websites on a server at the station. 

If you want to stream the LPFM station over the internet, you will need a server to stream the station on.  There are many companies like Stream Guys and SecureNet Systems that provide these services to the broadcast industry.  Any monthly charges for these services may not include the music licensing fees as mentioned above, but some providers, like Live365 do.  Some stations operate their own streaming servers, but keep in mind that each listener consumes bandwidth and if there is not enough upload speed on such an internet connection, it can slow down your organization's non-streaming operations and cause a bad listening experience for the streams.   

Mobile apps are a great way to keep your listeners connected and listening to the station. Mobile apps require someone to design the app and relationships with Google and Apple in order to make the app available in their stores.  Some companies like Aiir, provide a full turnkey solution for a impressive looking website with the option of adding a mobile app.  Companies like Aiir charge monthly for their services, so you will need to check them out.  You can see examples of Aiir and links to their mobile apps by visiting REC's websites for Delmarva-FM and J1 Radio

Again, any promotion that is done on websites, social media and mobile apps, are purely optional.  In addition, on websites and mobile apps, you can engage in levels of advertising that are not allowed to be done over the air.  

Insurance

Some stations take out various forms of insurance for their studio, their antenna and transmitter site (which may be required by some tower companies) and to cover on-air liability issues.  REC does not have any extensive information on these types of insurance and while it may not be required, it is something that may need to be considered.

If all of this sounds good and you are ready to put in your show of interest, let's first assure that LPFM is available in your area: