For those not aware of this broadcasting service, 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. Under the LP10 class rules, that would drop to 10 Watts.
LPFM is the common term used to define an FM broadcast station that originates its own programming, but only has the power of a translator – with some key differences. While a translator can be authorized with as much as 250 Watts at 328 feet, LPFM stations are currently limited to 100 Watts ERP, at 100 feet HAAT. Currently translators may not originate programming, but there is a proceeding underway which, if approved, would allow origination of programming.
LPFM is also undergoing some changes. There is a current proposal before the FCC to increase the maximum ERP from 100 watts to 250 watts. We expect this proposal to succeed, with rule codification around September 2012.
The FCC began issuing licenses for LPFM stations in 2000; however, the idea is not exactly a new concept.
LPFM existed for more than thirty years in the United States, known as a “Class D” station. The first Class D license was issued by the FCC in 1948. Class D stations were originally licensed at 10 Watts on the FM band, within the region of 88 to 92 Mhz (known as the “educational band”).
Class D stations were the FCC’s first attempt to bring more schools and colleges on the air – a way to give potential broadcasters an outlet for hands-on training at a much lower cost compared to say a 3,000 Watt station.
As time passed, Class D FM stations were granted higher power levels and ranged between 1 to 100 Watts. They were strictly non-commercial, and were only licensed to educational institutions. As a result of the educational institution requirement, there wasn’t a major demand for Class D stations.
It all began when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act into law. This led the way to federal funding becoming available for non-commercial educational radio stations. It fundamentally changed the idea of what non-commercial educational stations should be.
The first goal of the Act was to establish a national “public radio” network. Shortly after, National Public Radio was born, providing programming far above the level Class D stations were able to deliver on their own.
This basically created what we know as public radio today. The designers thought public radio should provide a nationally-accessible educational service – basically a “school on the radio.” Although many Class D stations were licensed to educational institutions, because of their small coverage they were generally used as on-air radio laboratories. It was a way for students to experiment with radio. As a result, the quality of the programming didn’t measure up to the standards of National Public Radio.