‘Last chance’ for FM frequencies:
the apps are in

Originally published in Current, Nov. 5, 2007
By Karen Everhart

After racing to complete applications for new full-power noncommercial FM stations last month, hundreds of public broadcasters and allied groups that want to start stations shifted into a wait-and-see mode.

Members of Radio for People, a coalition aiding independent community-based groups seeking FM licenses, estimated that community groups assisted by their campaign and pubcasters had submitted as many as 400 applications for new full-power noncommercial educational (NCE) stations. Native Public Media, a project of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, reported that 26 Native nations had applied.

Official numbers won’t be available until the FCC publishes a notice listing applications accepted for processing, possibly later this month. Applicants must wait to learn whether they are among the lucky singletons—those without competitors in their areas. If not, they face further delay and possibly defeat against other mutually exclusive applications.

“It’s a waiting game right now,” said Rolfe Larson, project coordinator for Public Radio Capital, pubradio’s consulting group specializing in signal expansion and business planning that funded 150 channel studies on behalf of the Radio for People coalition. The studies identified the best available channels across the country and were shared with hundreds of potential applicants aligned with the coalition’s goal to increase media diversity, he said. 

Available frequencies in the larger cities in PRC’s study — such as Milwaukee; Richmond, Va.; Hartford, Conn.; and Minnesota’s Twin Cities — were not equal to the desirable slots found in smaller markets, such as Stockton, Calif.; Canton, Ohio; Reading, Pa.; and Appleton, Wis., Larson said. In the bigger cities, open frequencies were channels that could reach less than half of the local population, he said. “Often, the really good channels were in the smaller cities.”

“Virtually all of the good frequencies in middle-sized markets have been applied for,” Larson said. “This is a historic opportunity for public and community radio because most of these last, great channels will no longer be available.”

Wisconsin Public Radio was among pubradio’s busier applicants. Several of its eight apps could add first public-radio service in rural areas of the state, according to Phil Corriveau, director. Applications for two open FM channels in central Wisconsin aim to strengthen WPR’s talk-oriented Ideas Network, which uses WHA-AM in Madison and WLBL-AM in Auburndale as its backbone.

“This will help in some of the fringe areas of the AM stations, especially when they go to low power at night,” Corriveau said. An application in Ashland would upgrade a translator to a full-power transmitter.

“We figure this is going to be our last opportunity to apply for any frequencies,” Corriveau said. Given WPR’s experience applying for new channels in the 1990s, he expects competition for the frequencies from religious broadcasters.

Vermont Public Radio applied for 10 new frequencies, the maximum that the FCC would accept from any single entity. If granted, most of the channels would expand VPR’s new classical network, according to President Mark Vogelzang. Some were targeted to fill in coverage of VPR News, and one or two for a potential new service targeting younger listeners.

When VPR split its news and classical service into two separate networks last month, the change created large coverage gaps in northeastern Vermont for classical music lovers with analog radios, according to a coverage map on VPR’s website.

VPR Classical reaches three-quarters of the state’s population, Vogelzang said, and VPR has pledged to extend the service to rural areas. But it will take a long time to follow through on the promise, he said. “This will be something that plays out over the years now, knowing how slowly the FCC works.”

Voices for Justice, a social justice nonprofit serving rural African-American communities in south-central North Carolina, is one of many applicants looking to establish a new community station. The group applied for an FM channel that would cover southern Moore County, a rural area undergoing rapid economic development.

For years, Voices for Justice bought airtime on WEEB-AM in Southern Pines to bring public attention to issues such as job discrimination, Ku Klux Klan harassment and exclusion of African-American communities from basic public services, according to Bobbie Person, a retired corrections officer and co-founder of the group. After attending the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta this summer, where Pacifica Radio and the Prometheus Radio Project presented a workshop on applying for new FM licenses, Voices for Justice began pursuing an application.

“We saw an opportunity to have a voice that would address the issues that are faced by the common citizens,” said Maurice Holland, a community activist and Voices for Justice board member. He credited organizers from Pacifica and Prometheus, as well as attorney Diane M. Standaert of the University of North Carolina Law School’s Civil Rights Center, for guidance and support during the application process, which included securing a grant from Public Radio Capital. “Without them, we would not have been able to achieve what we did.”  

Web page posted Nov. 21, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee


FCC schedules a melee for noncomm FM channels.


Nine in 10 FM applicants face mutually exclusive apps, November 2007


Native Public Media, a locus for license applications.

Vermont Public Radio explains why it has split into two program streams.

Voices for Justice, applicant in Moore County, N.C.



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