Low Power FM Movement Makes Waves

Low Power FM Radio

The FCC approved Low Power FM Radio in 2000. hide caption

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Fans of Low Power FM radio say hundreds of new mini-stations are bringing localism and diversity back to America's airwaves. The service's opponents — primarily big broadcasters — say the stations, which can be established for less than $10,000, are amateurish and cause interference.

Low Power FM Facts

  • Stations can have only noncommercial educational programming
  • More than 300 LPFM stations have been licensed, with more building facilities
  • Broadcast strength cannot exceed 100 watts
  • Average range of an LPFM station at 100 watts: 3.5 miles (5.6 km)
  • 3,200 applications were submitted in 2000 and 2001
  • Stations must broadcast at least 5 hours a day, 6 days a week -- FCC

Nearly five years after first moving to allow LPFM programming, the FCC is holding meetings with hundreds of activists and workers involved in the community-based stations. The discussion will center on the stations' effects — and the possible expansion of the program from rural and exurban areas into cities.

The FCC hearing comes as new ways of receiving radio programs — from satellite services like XM Radio to Internet tools like Audible.com — are growing by leaps and bounds. But the decidedly lo-fi approach of Low Power FM spurs a passionate reaction in its supporters, who praise its sometimes idiosyncratic content, and from critics, who say the stations create havoc on the radio dial.

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