In many ways, LPFM stations are just like any other radio station: they must comply with FCC regulations regarding interference, indecency and emergency response, and their signal can be heard with an ordinary FM radio. The similarities end there. In creating this new class of stations, the FCC took steps to ensure that LPFM stations were truly different, turning today’s top-down model of commercial broadcasting on its head: LPFM is truly bottom-up.
Radio stations with a broadcast radius of just a few miles can’t help but be local, but FCC rules make sure of it. Applicants for LPFM stations must be based within ten miles of the transmitter, and preference is given to applicant organizations who have been in the community for more than two years.
LPFM licenses themselves are free, and building a station can cost as little $10,000. LPFM restores public access to the airwaves, making owning a radio station possible for churches, schools, labor unions and other community groups—not just corporations.
Since they are non-commercial, LPFM stations are not driven to maximize profit and listeners like commercial stations. The FCC requires that LPFM stations must have an educational objective, though this is broadly defined: anything from spreading the sounds of Zydeco music to broadcasting local school board meetings. Individuals cannot apply for LPFM stations, licensees must be either:
- private, non-profit educational organization
- non-profit organization with a demonstrated educational purpose
- government or public agency, board or institution
Unlike hyper-consolidated national radio markets, no organization can own more than one LPFM station. The FCC regulations governing LPFM specifically prohibit any ownership of LPFM stations by existing full-power licensees, nor can LPFM licenses be sold or transferred. Combined with the low barriers to entry and their non-commercial nature, LPFM stations have allowed access to groups and content excluded from commercial radio