Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd of Prometheus Radio join us for a discussion of Low Power FM Radio (LPFM).
The Prometheus Radio Project builds participatory radio as a tool for social justice organizing and a voice for community expression. Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd join us on TWiRT this week. They work to demystify media policy and technology. Sanjay is Policy Director while Will is very much a Technical Guru.
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Announcer: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 186, is brought to you by, the Telos Hx1 and Hx2 telephone hybrids. Low-cost interfaces for placing phone callers on air. The Hx1 and Hx2 are perfect for low-power FM and other community radio stations and podcasters. On the web at Telos-systems.com.
And now, our feature presentation. TWiRT. Low-power FM is getting a lot of attention as another FCC filing window opens soon. Who will be applying, and how do you do it? [Voices]
From his palatial office of important business. Or in a choice hotel in a distant land. This is Kirk Harnack. Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd of the Prometheus Radio Project join us talking LPFM licensing and construction. You're dialed in to This Week in Radio Tech.
Kirk: Hey, everybody welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. Glad to be here. Where's here? I'll tell you in a minute. I'm the host of the show and the founder of This Week in Radio Tech, or TWiRT. But don't mispronounce that please- we'll have a Miley Cyrus moment. The show's been going on for, what, almost four years now.
This is episode 186. Coming up in a few minutes, Chris Tarr will be here. And you know, he's really into community radio and that's I why wanted Chris Tarr to be sure to be on the show. So he'll belong here in just a couple of minutes. Our guests, though, that's what I want to bring in and tell you about. Our guests are Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd from Prometheus Radio-the Prometheus Radio Project at prometheusradio.org. Let's go ahead, and if we can, switch them in here and say hi to Sanjay and Will. Hey Sanjay and Will, how are you?
Sanjay: Hi, Kirk, glad to be here.
Will: ...for having us.
Kirk: I'm glad to have you on the show. Usually, Sanjay and Will, we talk about big corporate radio stuff and expensive transmitters. And sometimes we talk about how to do things on the cheap, on the sly, maybe with used gear. But you guys are probably the experts of that, but before we get into how to save money on this stuff, let me reiterate, this is This Week in Radio Tech.
And it's a show where we talk about radio technology-everything from the microphone, to the beacon at the top of the tower, and all the stuff in between, including streaming technologies too. And that's certainly where a lot of broadcasters are going. This show is brought to you by Telos and the Telos Hx1 and Hx2, and these are POTS hybrids to put callers on the air. We'll talk more about that in about a half-hour.
All right, Prometheus radio. Sanjay, I ran across your name in an article about Prometheus in an LPFM licensing window coming up from the FCC. I've heard of Prometheus, now, for probably 10 or 12, maybe 15 years. What is Prometheus radio, Sanjay?
Sanjay: So, the Prometheus Radio Project is actually not a radio station, contrary to popular opinion.
Sanjay: The Prometheus Radio Product, we build and support community radio stations. We've been, now, a leading national voice for community radio, both at the grassroots and in policy circles for going on 15 years. And we led the coalition for the passage of the Local Community Radio Act in 2010, which is . . .
Sanjay: ...[which is how most folks know us]. And since 2010, we've been preparing for the window for nonprofit organizations to apply for low-power FM stations. So we've been doing grassroots outreach, organizing, technical support and, you know, alongside my role, which is more as an advocate in Washington.
Kirk: Now, before this Community Radio Act of 2010, there were low-power FM stations. What difference did that act make for the LPFM?
Sanjay: Sure, so, to get some context, the Federal Communications Commission, which is, of course, the regulator for all things radio in this country, created the low-power FM service in 1999. And it was kind of a throwback to the old Class D stations.
Sanjay: And it met quite a bit of opposition from the larger commercial broadcasters. And so, what happened, there was a lobbying effort by the National Association of Broadcasters, and in 2000, there were certain restrictions placed on this new LPFM service. Mainly that, to be on the third adjacent channel of full power broadcast stations.
Kirk: All right, so this has to do with the separation requirements up and down dial and where you could physically stick an LPFM transmitter between other stations, right?
Sanjay: Exactly, yeah. And so these spacing requirements were so wide for low-power FM stations that it really kicked, you know, most of the LPFM applications from that first window were dismissed.
Sanjay: And the ones that remained were largely in rural areas. And so, all, you know, urban, even suburban areas, the vast, vast majority of these LPFM applications from the first window in 2000, were dismissed by the FCC.
Kirk: Oh. Okay.
Sanjay: What the Local Community Radio Act did was, it's, you know, after quite a bit of studying the concerns over interference on third adjacent channels were largely debunked in the years following that piece of legislation back in 2000, in 2001. The Local Community Radio Act, it eliminated third adjacent channel restrictions and demanded that the FCC have a new application window for these low-power FM stations.
So, this is actually, you know, it's a very exciting because it's the first time, really, in 40 years that community radio and low-power FM, in general, is open to cities and to urban audiences.
Kirk: Help me clear up a bit of confusion about LPFM versus FM translators. Does one take precedence over the other? I always thought that translators were a secondary service. How does that relate to LPFM?
Sanjay: So both translators and LPFMs are secondary services, so they're considered [inaudible 00:06:56] by the FCC.
Sanjay: So, like, they operate on the same level relative to each other and they're always subservient to full power stations.
Kirk: Ah, okay. So if a full power station can fit in somewhere, find a way to fit in, it could kick LPFMs or translators off the air. Does that full power stations have to find places for those or do they just have to go away?
Sanjay: Well, [certainly, no,] full power stations don't have to consider translators or LPFMs at all.
Kirk: Wow, wow. Wow.
Sanjay: [Move into] an area, and that LPFM that was there previously interferes with the full power station, the LPFM has to move or it has to shut down operations.
Kirk: Fair, okay. Hey, I believe Chris Tarr is online with us now. Chris, have you joined us?
Man: He's having some issues with the video, I'm getting him up.
Kirk: Okay. We'll watch for a sign. Chris Tarr is our other co-host this evening and works with a community FM, I think a full power community FM, in Milwaukee. So I'm going to be eager to hear what Chris has to ask as well.
So you've given us some background here, about the Community Radio Act of 2010 and, I guess, are we expecting to see when this filing window opens, not sure about how that relates to the government shutdown at the moment. Maybe you could fill us in on that. But are we expected to see a flood of LPFM applications?
Sanjay: Yeah, we definitely are. I mean, because the organizations that are applying for these stations, are applying for LPFM licenses are so diverse, it's really been impossible for anyone, including us and including the FCC, to even begin to estimate the number of applications that they're going to receive. The estimate, the sort of the ballpark that I've heard, is between 5,000 and 20,000.
Kirk: Oh my goodness. That's a big ballpark, yeah. What happens with mutually exclusive LPFM applications?
Sanjay: So what happens is, you know, after all these applications go in . . .
Sanjay: . . . you know, if you're applying for an organization and you are the only group to apply for a specific channel in an area . . .
Sanjay: . . . you can [inaudible 00:09:21]. And assuming that your application is acceptable, you know, you can receive an LPFM license that way. In many cases, organizations are going to be competing with other organizations for the same channel. In that case, what the FCC does is, it puts you in this thing called a mutually exclusive group, an MX group. And they provide an opportunity by which these mutually exclusive groups can file a settlement-so they can do a timeshare on that channel. And . . .
Sanjay: . . . point system that the FCC employs, by which, you know, so every group has a certain number of points based on its attributes, which in an MX group, which ever settlement group has the most number of points will receive their license collectively.
Kirk: Okay, okay. Now, LPFM licenses, typically, are applied for and go to groups that don't have deep pockets, you know, they're community groups. Is it possible for mutually exclusive applicants to recognize each other and come to agreement that's, perhaps, financial?
Sanjay: Will, [inaudible 00:10:47].
Will: Yeah. That's definitely possible.
Will: And it kind of comes down to the wheeling and dealing after the application process and, you know, some decisions are made on the behalf, you know, in terms of the settlement group. But that's certainly something that will have to be worked out by a lot of groups in a lot of cities.
Kirk: We'll come back to that in a second. Hey, Chris Tarr is with us now. Hey, Chris, welcome in.
Chris Tarr: . . . There we go. Hello, there, Kirk, how are you?
Kirk: Hey, buddy, good to hear you. I'm sorry I can't see you tonight-we're all doing with limited bandwidth issues. I'm off in Cleveland, Mississippi, which is, you know, I'm surprised I've got Internet here. You're up in Mukwonago, Wisconsin-normally, great Internet, but there appears to be some bugs, some gremlins in the [works] this evening. And welcome in, Chris; we're talking with Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd from Prometheus Radio, and their website is prometheusradio.org.
And Will had just piped up and was telling us about mutually exclusive applications. And that brought me to a question, and I think I better ask a set-up question. Gentlemen, for LPFMs, what kind of group or individual can apply for an LPFM? Can just an ordinary guy do this, or does it have to be a recognized organization of some kind?
Sanjay: So, there's three groups that can apply, three kinds of group that can apply [inaudible 00:12:19] [LPFM] license. One is, a nonprofit organization-and the majority of applicants when the file window happens will be nonprofit organizations. So that's not necessarily 501(c)3's-that's a federal designation, but it's . . .
Sanjay: . . . a state [organized] nonprofit. So whatever your state laws are, are those that apply to whether or not you're a nonprofit and whether or not you're eligible to apply for an LPFM. The other groups are public safety agencies and tribal applicants.
Kirk: Okay, okay. So, could a religious organization qualify if they fall under a nonprofit in their state?
Sanjay: Indeed, yeah. You know, many, many LPFMs that received licenses in the previous filing window were churches, were religious organizations, and many will be in this round, I suspect.
Kirk: Okay, tell me about the requirements to run an LPFM? Are you expected to be on the air on a regular schedule? Is there a minimum number of hours per week or per month that you're broadcasting content?
Sanjay: So there are two sets of rules at play, right, in the application. One is for general operation, and then the other [inaudible 00:13:49] are similar to regulations for full-power noncommercial stations. What the FCC does is, it has a point system, and that point system is what determines who's most preferred in an MX group. And one of the points that an entity can receive is a pledge to produce eight hours of programming locally each week.
Kirk: Ah, okay, okay. All right. So the promise to produce local programming gets you more points and may help you be the winner in a mutually exclusive application situation.
Sanjay: That's right.
Kirk: Okay, okay. Hey, Chris Tarr, again, welcome in. Chris, tell us about the station that you work with-it's not a low-power FM, but it is a community station.
Chris: It is, and I actually have done consulting work for LPFMs. There's an LPFM up in northern Wisconsin that I've done some work with, and they, in fact, we were just talking about this on the IRC channel, they have a translator. Actually, they have two translators that are rebroadcasting their LPFM. So I've done some work with them. There's also an LPFM here in town.
You know, it's kind of a tale of two different signals; the one I was doing some work for, very well run, very well put together, you know, pretty good operation-it is a religious broadcaster. And then there is the one in town here, that, you know; nobody knows where their studio is, nobody knows where their antenna is, you barely know who's running it-it's just basically a jukebox.
So, you know, I've seen the good and the bad. Generally, good. So, but back to your point, yes. For example, the group I work for could, theoretically, if we didn't lease the license for MPS, we could certainly do LPFM. You know, we're a nonprofit organization, we, you know, meet all the requirements for that, so, it's certainly possible. Of course, we're fortunate enough to be able to enter an agreement to operate at a Class B FM, so we don't need to do that, but, there you go.
So, my feeling on it, and I'm sure we'll talk about this more later too, is I am a big proponent of LP FM, actually, but the key is, you know, well done. As most people know, I'm much into, you know, doing things well and technically doing things right. Most of these don't have a huge budget, but decent equipment and people who care about the operation and who pay attention and listen and fix things that get wrong.
So, you know, I think that it definitely fills a need. And especially in these more rural areas where most of the radio stations have moved away to the bigger cities or never really had a big station come in because the economics didn't work. You know, I see a very big opportunity there for the LPFM broadcasters to kind of step in and fill that need. And as we've shown in Milwaukee with a bigger signal, you know, there's plenty of opportunity there, if you want to, if you choose to, step in and really serve the community well. You know, that's not happening a lot lately, so anybody who can come in and do that is great in my book.
Kirk: You made very good points there, Chris, especially about so often in the commercial broadcasting worlds, you have a community of license, and then you have a community of financial interest. And those may . . .
Kirk: . . . not be the same community. That's what we have so many [rimshot] radio stations across this country in the USA . . .
Kirk: . . . where is licensed to West [Undershirt], Arkansas, and they're trying to get the signal as best they can't over into Little Rock, Arkansas. But, you know.
Chris: That's what really bothered me about the  docket that created so many Class A allocations-that was supposed to fix that. That was supposed to give a lot of small communities their first FM service. You know, to be fair, some of those allocations, there's never going to be away that that was going to be supported. But generally what happens, you had a lot of shuffling, you had a lot of upgrading, and you had a lot of these communities that originally had an FM allocation go away, disappear.
Either, have the city license moved or upgraded and ignoring that city for something bigger. So I really think that LPFM has the opportunity there. You know, first of all, I do think that, to back up just a little bit, I think that there's a misunderstanding about LPFM opportunities. I think that you see a lot of people going, "Oh, great. I'm just going to throw one on in Milwaukee, or I'm going to throw one on in a big city." Probably not going to happen, or at least not very easily.
And I think the other thing is, "Well, it's easy to do. I'm just going to get the license, and we'll throw something on." I really wish those people wouldn't do it. But I do think, you know, again, thoughtful programming, thoughtful operation. What I'm afraid of is, right now, there's a fairly low barrier to entry that I'm hoping we don't get a lot of people who just want to play radio. You know, I'm hoping that when this window opens up we'll actually get people who really do want to serve the community or serve a group, or a community, or whatever, but actually provide a service rather than just have a radio station.
Kirk: Sanjay and Will, what kind of group or organization do you feel is, well, who's best qualified to make use of what LPFM is supposed to be about? Is there a typical group in mind or a typical mindset or mission of a group that's best for LPFM?
Will: Yeah, I think, you know, what we believe at Prometheus that, you know, the nonprofit organizations, the community groups that are already involved in specific life of their city and already doing different kinds of media or just serving the community in other ways. They're the groups who we're interested in helping to start a radio station, to start using media, because they're already connected, they're already, you know, heavily involved in the work that would be great to kind of broadcast over the radio.
Kirk: Sure. Okay.
Sanjay: [And just to add one more] [inaudible 00:20:59], the thing about this applicant landscape right now, there are a lot of religious organizations, that should be said. But in general, no, there's no typical applicant because they're all-[it's happened], you know, in media in general, not just in radio, over the last 20, 30 years. Is that folks all over the country, you know, local newspapers a shutting down, local radio is almost nonexistent outside of the biggest cities.
And so, whether you're a church, or a union or whether you're an elementary school-all of these different kinds of organizations are really feeling marginalized in terms of their local media landscape. So no matter what kind of organization you are, all of these organizations are looking to reinsert their voice into their communities. One of the things that we hear all the time is that they feel like they're not being heard in their own towns, that there's no space for them. And so, that's why folks are so excited about this opportunity.
Kirk: So organizations that get an LPFM license or apply for them, do you find that a lot of them, you mentioned specific minded earlier. Do these folks want to do things, like, cover city council meetings or school board meetings? Because those are things, so often in today's media landscape, don't get covered unless the school boards of the city council streams their meetings.
Will: Absolutely. The kind of every day important information that isn't available to a lot of folks in smaller towns. Even in big cities, you know, you don't see the school board meeting covered in corporate media or even noncommercial media all that often in big cities and stuff like that. And so, yeah, absolutely, that kind of content that's so important to engagement and communication with your neighbors, that's the kind of content that LPFM can really support well.
Kirk: Those meetings, come to think of it, you don't see in the newspaper either unless there's some controversy going on. Somebody's, you know, in trouble.
Chris: You know, Kirk, I do run school board meetings on our station.
Kirk: That's right. Yeah, the license belongs to the school board, right?
Chris: Yeah, I did, yeah, it does-the Board of . . .
Chris: . . . Directors. Anyway, I had about two years ago, a little bit longer than that, had the pleasure of signing on a community station out in western Wisconsin. They managed to get a noncommercial license out there and installed the transmitter and did some work for them back then. And, you know, it's a very good example of what community radio can be-it's all community members, volunteers, the station's board is all made up of community members.
And their whole reason for existing is to talk about the things that are going on in their town, and there's a real need for that because it's a smaller part of the state. And the regular commercial media that is there, you know, the law of economics, they're mostly voice tracked and satellite provided, so there's really not a lot of local information going on there.
Chris: But what's unusual in that situation is that you had the commercial broadcasters actually welcoming them and offering assistance to . . .
Chris: . . . get them going. Yeah, because they saw the need for that and they didn't look at it as competition-they looked at it as complementary. Kind of the, you know, rising tide raises all the ships kind of mentality that, hey, it's a win for radio if you can get something in there that does more to get people turned on to radio. And everybody wins in that situation.
Kirk: That's a good point. I'm glad they looked at it that way.
Chris: Yeah, I was going to say, unfortunately, that's not how a lot of people look at it. And I'm sure that will be a part of the discussion tonight is, there's also a whole other side to that where it can be difficult. And I'm one of the few broadcast engineers out there that is more than willing to work with LPFMs to get them on the air. You know, there's still a lot of conception in commercial media that these stations are a bother and that they're just an annoyance and that sort of thing.
And the way I look at it is, that same thing, that I think that they're doing a service. And if I can help them do it will, that also eliminates some of the issues of, you know, I think a lot of the technical problems happen because a lot of these places don't have anybody with experience to help do the technical part of that. And so, you know, if I can, at a reduced rate, or even donate some time-if I can help them get something on the air that is clean, and doesn't interfere and is set up properly, I think, again, that's a win for everybody.
And I think, especially, it's a win for radio because, again, we want to keep people turning their radio on as their first source of information. And if we can provide services that are compelling and interesting to the community, we'll definitely get that done.
Kirk: Chris, you mentioned, you started in the technical area, and I want to get to that in the second half of the show. Because there's a number of technical questions and issues that I'd like to get out there in front of both you and Will Floyd to see just what folks do about building an LPFM station. I want to run back, though, for a minute, and now that we've asked about what kind of people or groups, and I guess you can't stereotype them, apply for LPFMs.
Sanjay, is there still time right now for somebody to look in their community, see if there might be a channel available to apply for, and get that applied for?
Sanjay: Well, you know, if things had gone as planned, my answer would be no.
Kirk: Ah-ha. Okay.
Sanjay: As you know, there's a government shutdown happening right now, so [the original] LPFM filing window was from October 15th to October 29th. If you're just starting to look into applying for an LPFM just a few days in advance of the window, you know, chances are you wouldn't have a lot of luck.
But now it's ambiguous, right? We don't know when the window's going to be; we won't know until the shutdown is over and the FCC continues its normal operations. So, to those out listening, yeah, more power to you. Who knows how much time you have, it might not be very much, so, go see what you can do.
Kirk: Your website, prometheusradio.org, has some tools to kind of help you get started and seeing if you can even fit in LPFM in. Tell me about the technical or the application tools that Prometheus Radio offers?
Will: So our main tool that we've been developing for quite some time is called [R Free], and it's, you know, R-F Free. It's a channel finding software that we've developed in-house, and it allows anyone to look up their ZIP Code, or their address, or local library, or school, and plug that in and see if there are available frequencies there.
And then it can also lead you kind of through all the technical issues that you would run into in the application. It's one of those things that kind of the deeper you go into it, the, you know, the more you learn if you're a novice. And that's one of our jobs is to educate the public and people who may not be radio folks or technical folks, about how to actually go through this process, [submit] a successful application. You know, dot all the Is and cross all the Ts and be familiar with the FCC rules and regulations so that when they do receive a construction permit and start to build a station that they have a chance and they're familiar with what they need to do.
Kirk: By the way, you mentioned the word construction permit, and as a commercial broadcast engineer, one who's mostly worked in commercial radio, that's a familiar term to me, certainly. If you're a successful applicant and you're granted an LPFM license, what you're issued is a permit to construct the station and it specifies, you know, the location, the height, the power, I guess that kind of thing.
And then once you get it built, then you actually have to apply for one more thing-you have to apply for, at least in commercial radio, a license to cover the construction permit. Is it similar in LPFM?
Sanjay: Yeah, it's exactly the same process.
Kirk: Okay, okay. All right. So, let me think. I tell you what, Sanjay, before we roll into some technical things later on in the show, what else would you like to tell us? What else should our audience know about LPFM and the application process, or if you want to support an applicant? What haven't we covered that would be in your department?
Sanjay: Well, there's loads and loads of policy stuff.
Sanjay: If you are a listener who represents an organization that's interested in applying for an LPFM license, I would recommend that you go to our website, it's www.prometheusradio.org. I mean, there's just tons of resources out there depending on your technical know-how and how far along you are in the process because there are a million different things I can tell you.
But it has lots of resources on FCC, lots of technical resources, [inaudible 00:31:35] to us as well.
Kirk: Okay. I tell you what, let's do a little tease for the second half of the show. If you are a successful applicant and you get a construction permit, what could a group expect to have to expend, moneywise, to build their LPFM station? Now I realize this could be a huge range, it certainly is for commercial radio. Heck, I'm part owner, or have been part owner, of a grand total now, of about 14 radio stations, some of which we built on a credit card.
I mean, it hasn't taken a lot of money to build, you know, Class A FMs in the Delta part of Mississippi, which is where I'm coming to you from right now. But what do you find people tend to have as a budget range for building an LPFM?
Will: Absolutely, it is a range. And this is kind of you know, our bread- and-butter, as Prometheus is the kind of actual construction [inaudible 00:32:40] of stations on a shoestring budget. And so, you know, we have resources that kind of range between explaining budgets for kind of capital costs, for construction costs, from $10,000, to $20,000, to $30,000. And, you know, the focus of that, really, at the construction period for us is, bringing communities together and leveraging resources that are already existing.
Already people who are musicians who have home recording gear, or folks who are amateur radio operators. Just, like, really trying to bring as many people together to bring that cost down, to use donated equipment, use labor from construction to the actual installation of an antenna and a transmitter, all to really make it an affordable process.
Kirk: I'll tell you what, we're going to take a break right now and talk about our sponsor for just a couple of minutes. When we come back, we're going to focus on the technical aspects of building one of these stations and I want to hear some of the war stories, you know, some of the things that you've done that have been clever, or interesting, or what's normal in building a low- power FM. And then I want to wrap the show up with an example or two of a real LPFM success story, where the organization and the licensed type come together to really serve what it was intended to do and what the happy outcome has been.
Folks, you're watching or listening to This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 186. I'm Kirk Harnack your host, along with Chris Tarr from Mukwonago, Wisconsin. We're talking to Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd of Prometheus Radio. Their website is prometheusradio.org, and they are all about low-power FMs. And not only in the US, although we're talking about mostly the US here, they do some work outside the US as well. Our show is brought to you by Telos, they happen to be my employer, and I thank them very much for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
You know, Telos makes some products that could be appropriate for low-power FM broadcasters. Now you may be looking on eBay or other used markets for your equipment. But you also may look to a new equipment dealer to get some of your gear and I want to recommend to you, if you're going to put together some really good content, lots of times that involves putting listener callers on the air, or bringing reporters in from the outside by something as simple as a telephone. And one way to do that, or the way to do that properly, is to connect your phone line to your audio console through a device called the telephone hybrid.
The telephone hybrid is what makes the two wire telephone line work with a four wire connection, and that would be your audio console-separate audio in, and separate audio out to the caller, so the caller can hear the broadcast well. And also the console, and hence, the listeners, can hear the caller very well. A telephone hybrid is what you're looking for, and Telos, yeah, Telos, makes them. Why, Telos invented the digital signal process telephone hybrid back in the early 1980s.
That's what Steve Church brought to the table and brought to the broadcast industry. Well Telos now offers the Telos Hx1 and Telos Hx2 telephone hybrids. Now these are, on one sense, they're very basic telephone hybrids-they connect to POTS, it's a plain old telephone line. If you have SIP service in your building, or if you have Vonage or magicJack, well, those put out a POTS connection, so you can connect that right to the back of a Telos Hx1, or two of them to an Hx2, which is a dual hybrid. And then connect the audio out to your console, and connect your console's output, this would perfectly be a mix- minus or an aux/bus output, back to the Telos Hx1 or 2, so the caller can hear you.
Check them out on the web at Telos-systems.com. It's a little difficult to explain-we have diagrams on the website, you can download the instruction manual and you'll see that they're really pretty easy to connect. And this is the right way to put callers on the air. The Telos Hx1 and Hx2 have built-in audio processing from Omnia, and you get automatic equalization, low and high end, your callers are maximizing their sound quality. Also, really tight level control designed by Omnia. Even your send audio going to the caller is audio processed, good level control, and we do something really clever, and as far as I know only Telos does this.
And that is to send audio to the caller, we actually do a little trick-we pitch shift it down just a little bit. What does this do? Well it lets you have the possibility of open mic and open speakers in your control room, or in your audience, or in your talk studio so that not everybody has to be wearing headphones. You can actually have a speaker playing the caller audio, and you as the host or a guest, you can talk to the caller through your microphone and you don't have to be wearing headphones. Generally, it works better with headphones, but if you've got to have the open mic or open speaker, like, in a television broadcast, or just an open community forum, you can do that with a Telos Hx6.
Check them out on the web at Telos-systems.com. And thanks a lot, Telos, for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. All right, thanks for joining us, and we're talking with Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd from prometheusradio.org. Chris Tarr is with us as well.
Okay, guys, I want to talk technical now for a little while. You get a license, what, typically, does building an LPFM station involve? How big is the antenna? Can you use cable TV coax? What's the transmitter look like? And then you've got the audio console and maybe some audio processing.
Will, maybe you can kind of walk us through some of the major steps and pieces of gear that are involved with LPFM.
Will: Sure. You can use the same kind of broadcast equipment you would use for, you know, a more powerful FM station. And often, that's not an option because you could really drop a lot of money on some nice equipment.
Will: It's not really [inaudible 00:39:35] for low-power FM. For example, a full power station, you would have your FM exciter and then an amplifier. For a low-power FM, oftentimes, all you need is that exciter and a high gain antenna. Or, a 100-Watt, 200-Watt transmitter and a [1-Bay] antenna.
Kirk: What's a typical power output? Okay, what's the typical ERP, Effective Radiated Power, for an LPFM?
Will: Typical is 100 Watts. 100 Watts is the, you know, the maximum. 100 Watts at 30 meters Height Above Average Terrain. That's your kind of max power output as a low-power FM.
Will: Which is a little bit [different for translators.] You know, so, there's even a requirement that if you do go up above 30 meters of Height Above Average Terrain in your area, you have to reduce your power.
Will: And that's your broadcast contoured the same as if you had it at 30 meters. So, you know, it's small. It's a small area, and depending on where it is, [inaudible 00:41:21], especially in cities which is now possible to a much greater degree than in the first low-power FM window.
Kirk: Right, right. Okay, so, what, 100 Watts ERP at basically 100 feet Above Average Terrain, 30 meters. So if you're on a hill, you could build a shorter tower, if you're on flat terrain or if your building, your studio building is at the average height for the area, and there's a formula to figure that, then you'd have a tower that's about 100 feet tall. If this is like standard FM, you could use a 1-Bay antenna. By the way, are these typically circularly polarized, or vertical, or horizontal? Or is it whatever you want?
Will: Typically, it's circularly polarized.
Kirk: So a 1-Bay antenna has a gain of about point five, so you've got to pump a couple hundred Watts into it to get 100 Watts out. I'm sorry, Chris Tarr, were you going to say something?
Chris: Correct me if I'm wrong, I thought that the rule was with LPFMs with transmitters, at least, that they had to be type certified for that. Am I wrong?
Sanjay: No, that's correct, they'd have to be type certified.
Chris: Okay. So, you really can't just grab an exciter and throw it on there. Although I know a lot of people do.
Will: Sorry, what was that?
Kirk: Well, Chris was saying that a lot of exciters are not type certified to be a transmitter because they probably don't have enough second and third and fourth harmonic suppression. In other words, what comes out wouldn't meet the spec for a transmitter. Again, probably because of the harmonic situation.
Kirk: But there are exciters that are also termed transmitters and they do meet that spec. I'm sure there are plenty of LPFMs that are on the air and they're using an exciter that's not really a transmitter. And again, the biggest difference there, in terms of the spec, being just its propensity to interfere. I tell you what, I'll go ahead and get that elephant on the table here.
As a broadcast engineer myself, my biggest fear about an LPFM getting put on the air is, because I've seen in the translator world, is it gets put on the air in a pretty haphazard way with some poor, sloppy engineering, and it ends up having second harmonic or other interference. Maybe even spurious energy coming out of the exciter, and ends up interfering with broadcasts, with other, you know, more higher powered commercial broadcasters, or public broadcasters.
Okay, that's a fear maybe unfounded, but I have seen some sloppy engineering out there, honestly, not in the LPFM world. But I know since the budgets are low and the desire is to do it on the cheap, heck, you may be tempted to go buy an FM exciter from eBay from, you know, Bill & Bob's Great Exciter Company, and who knows what that puts out. So, give us your perspective on how can you lay to rest of my fears about that situation?
Will: Sure. Well, I mean, the biggest thing for us is to educate about what rules are, make sure that the equipment that is used is appropriate for the application. It's definitely true, and this happens with translators and it happens, certainly, with LPFM, that the FCC does receive a significant amount of kind of paper applications, you know, which one guy in his garage with an automation computer and who knows what else.
And our position on that is that, you know, that kind of operation can restrict the groups and the kind of, you know, more well resourced and more engaged, kind of civically, the groups that really should be able to have these licenses.
The schools, the churches, the existing nonprofits, the arts and cultural organizations-those are who the service is intended for. And unfortunately, there are rules that folks can get around. But this application window is also, you know, there are additional rules and requirements with this application window that we have advocated for, and many others, to make sure that the right people are getting licenses.
Kirk: Chris Tarr, you alluded a few minutes back, Chris Tarr, about how you were involved in an LPFM or two. And it seems to me that one way to make sure, as a broadcast engineer, that, hey, if a couple of groups get LPFM licenses in my area, one way that I can be sure that they won't interfere with other licensed broadcasters, is to go help them out myself. So, Chris, what could you say about, you know, broadcast engineers giving help to these LPFM groups?
Chris: I think it's a great idea for that reason. You know, I do think one of the things that, unfortunately, hasn't been, I don't think, communicated very well to a lot of these applicants is that, you know, you can do it on a budget and I'm all for saving money where you can. But I think sometimes that there's some things, the realities that they don't understand. And you're talking about a group of people who have no technical knowledge trying to put one of these things together.
And there have been a couple of-and I'm sure there's lots of them around the country-but I've dealt with a couple of really smart groups who've come to me and said, "Listen, we're putting on this LPFM. We know, number one, it's in everybody's best interest that we do this well. Number two, a well engineered LPFM will perform a whole lot better one that's just kind of thrown together to get something on air. And three, we want to be good neighbors."
So, you know, they've come to me and have asked for advice and I think that, again, part of the problem is I think there's still some broadcast engineers who are [hostile to the idea] of LPFM and aren't real approachable on this subject. And then there are guys like me who are, you know, more than willing to help out and have donated time to do it, and that sort of thing.
So, I do think that if anybody's who's listening is thinking about getting involved with this and working with LPFM, at some point you do need to get advice from a competent broadcast engineer. I think that every LPFM that plans on doing that kind of work or putting something on the air, at least needs to consult with one so that you kind of get an idea of what you're looking at and kind of what some of the minimum standards are.
I walked into one situation where, I mean, this place was [laughs] a big ole fine and a shut down waiting to happen. But it wasn't their fault-they just didn't understand what they were getting into and, perhaps, got some bad advice or something. But, you know, it was that kind of thing where they were using really poor old exciter into an antenna that was not very efficient.
So I was able to find them some decent equipment on a budget, we made the changes and they were surprised at how much better their station performed, and sounded, and those sorts of things. I think, again, one of the things that's real important as you go into this process, is to really understand some of the technology behind it and at least, at least ask around.
And you might get shot down one or two times by some of the broadcast engineers in the area, but I'm willing to bet that you find somebody who's willing to donate a few minutes of his or her time to kind of help you along the way.
Kirk: And Will, I guess this is part of your function too, with Prometheus, is helping people get the right information?
Will: Absolutely. Yeah, go ahead.
Kirk: Please finish your thought, and then I've got another question.
Will: Yeah, I was just going to say I've spent a lot of time talking to a lot of engineers who we've been working with, you know, just to kind of spread out some of the work with the application process. And the folks that I've been talking to are excited to work with people who haven't been on the radio before, who are bringing something new to it, and are excited to be involved in bringing localism back to the airwaves, which has been lost over the years.
Kirk: Do you find that an LPFM applicant or somebody who gets a license, these organizations, do they tend to be more focused on maybe what they think is the fun part, and that's the studio gear? They want to get the coolest console they can afford, they want to make sure their mics look good, and they want to maybe get an audio processor that's going to sound loud, and then not pay a lot of attention to the transmission gear.
Do you find that to be the case or are a lot of people really concerned that the transmission gear is the best it can be, weather resistant, and well installed, and lightning protected and all that stuff, and operating correctly?
Will: Sure, yeah. I mean, I think it depends on every situation, but, you know, people tend to be really concerned about the transmission gear. And then, in terms of studio gear, as long as it works, you know.
Will: I think LPFMs that we've worked with, the kind of headphones that break all the time, the mics that don't last more than a year, those are the ones that are concerns. But, you know, certainly having a good set up is the goal.
Kirk: Cool. I guess there's probably, sometimes there's tower work involved. To get an antenna 100 feet up in the air, somebody's got to climb a piece of steel. Funny, I was just climbing two towers today, actually, moving some 950 Megahertz STL antennas around. We're actually moving out of this room that I'm in, tomorrow, to a new facility up the road. What do LPFM'ers do about the rather expensive prospect of hiring a tower crew?
Will: Sure. I mean, some of them can hire a tower crew, and when they can't, they call their neighbors. There's a really great video on our website and online of, I think, it's Radio Free Nashville? Is that it?
Kirk: Yeah. I know these guys. Yeah, uh-huh.
Will: And they have a great operation over there. The video that I'm thinking of has a [inaudible 00:53:11] part of it is when they're raising the tower. And that was a Prometheus barn raising, I think, in the mid 2000s.
Will: You know, they brought together folks who knew about towers, they knew about kind of structural engineering, and they rigged up a kind of human, human-powered pulley system and they got it up. So, the builds can really be pretty exciting for a community, especially when folks [can be] involved like that.
Kirk: I've got to warn, putting up a tower is all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. So you got to be careful. I have been, actually, to some Third World countries where the horsepower to put towers up, and pull antennas up, and coax, was all human power. I mean, ropes and pulleys and lots of guys on the ground pulling these ropes. And people with taglines and the guys looking out for safety, so it can be done.
You can put up a pretty substantial tower with a bunch of guys under the direction of somebody who knows what they're doing. So it doesn't necessarily require a real expensive tower crew-just, hopefully, a tower rigger who knows what he's doing, and just a few basic common tools, like ropes and pulleys. You can get a lot done with that.
Will: Sure [thing.]
Kirk: Hey, Will, kind of wrap us up here. What other advice would you like to give to folks on the technical side, of building or applying for an LPFM? What's on your mind still that we haven't said yet?
Will: I'm not sure. I think one of the biggest things is just asking questions. You know, we're available at all times, that is, during the workday to answer questions. And for folks who are interested that's definitely [inaudible 00:55:18]. Give us a call, take a look at our website. There's opportunity for some really great new media outlets in this window, and yeah, if you ask enough questions and really put your mind to it, this can be done.
Kirk: Well, good, good. All right. Well, your website, prometheusradio.org, wealth of information there. And you're there-your title that we have for you is Technical Guru, so people have questions, they might end up getting them answered by you directly. So, Will, I appreciate you being with us. I want to wrap up, oh, I'm sorry, Chris Tarr, anything more technical you wanted to ask at this point before we wrap up with some comments from Sanjay?
Chris: Nope, I'm good.
Kirk: All right, all right. Because Chris I know you've built some of these things. What would you, Chris, say, hey, look out for? You've already said, you know, hey, ask engineers, see if you can get a local guy involved, don't try and do it on your own without any help. [Pitfalls?]
Chris: I just think that, I think that you need to go into it with some realistic expectations. You know, I did talk to a gentleman a month or two ago in a large market who thought he was going to be the only one who identified this perfect LPFM spot and was going to, you know, make it all happen. What I would like to see down the road is, I would like to see the FCC, maybe in conjunction with Prometheus, come out with some sort of kind of just a general guide to doing this.
Because I think right now, you know, there's this opportunity here to do these things and I think, you know, there's still a lot of people who don't know about Prometheus. And I think that, you know, they go into this going, "Hey, how hard can it be? It's a radio station, let's just put something together." And then they get into it and they realize it's a lot more difficult and that's where the problem starts. So, I do think that, you know, what I would like to see down the road is some sort of education going into this, as opposed to just kind of throwing you to the wolves.
But on the other side of that coin, I have visited quite a few LPFM stations that are well done at a very low budget. There are some that I've been very proud to be involved with. So I think it's a great thing, I'm glad there's another window open, and I really, I wish the best for all the applicants.
Kirk: Sanjay or Will, my last question would be, tell us about how this can really have a happy ending? Tell us about a great success story with an LPFM and a community that is getting served and people are who are getting their voices heard? What's the light at the end of the tunnel for people in this process?
Sanjay: You know, the light at the end of the tunnel, Kirk, is potentially, what we have is a really . . . is a real shift in the landscape of [inaudible 00: 58:33] [have] thousands, or even tens of thousands of LPFMs supplying. You know, even in medium- sized cities, in St. Louises, and Charlottes, and cities like that, I mean, you have four or five open channels.
There was a point that was brought up earlier about there was a full power [NCE] in Wisconsin and how the commercial broadcasters who were actually quite supportive of that effort.
Sanjay: And the fact to the extent that LPFM is good for radio, it's good for all of radio, right? Because LPFM, if it's locally relevant-if it's relevant to people, if it's covering school board meetings, and playing local musicians, and, you know, [doing all of these things] that community media should do, and will do, then that brings more people tuning in to the dial.
So, when you look at the light at the end of the tunnel, it's LPFMs all over the countries [inaudible 00:59:38], [local areas] serving their local needs, serving their local population. And bringing more people to the radio, not just for LPFMs, but for commercial stations and noncommercial stations.
Kirk: I would have to agree completely with what you just said, and I'm lucky to live in Nashville. You mentioned earlier, Radio Free Nashville. I want to say the call sign is WRFN, as in Radio Free Nashville, but I could be wrong about that. Matt Lane is their engineer, and I don't know anybody else at the station, but I've been to the studio, on top of a hill in a beautiful quiet hill overlooking the valley that Nashville is in.
And these guys really serve the Nashville community, and they're community supported, obviously, with just a relatively small signal that covers a lot of good folks in Nashville. So, I'm excited about them and their success. I hope that there are more LPFMs that pop up that serve people like Radio Free Nashville does.
Kirk: All right. So, hey, the website again is prometheusradio.org. Sanjay, I know there's a staff page there that tells about the executive group there and the folks who are on staff and willing to help out who guide you. You are there as the Policy Director. Will Floyd, you're also listed on the website as the Technical Guru. So if folks need anything, you know, to know about LPFM, that's the place to go, prometheusradio.org. Guys, we've got to close up. Anything else, Sanjay or Will, you want to get said?
Sanjay: No, just thank you for inviting us, it was a real pleasure to be here.
Will: Thank you.
Kirk: It's been a pleasure to talk to you too, and I wish you a lot of success in this upcoming round of applications. Whenever that may be. By the way, I guess your website is a great place to go for news on when the window is going to be open for filing?
Sanjay: [Dating] in real-time.
Kirk: Yeah, that's the place to go. All right. Hey, Chris Tarr, LPFM, what's the word I'm looking for? Not old-timer. The word escapes me. Not rookie. If you're not a rookie, you're a what?
Chris: Old hand? I don't know.
Kirk: Old hand? No, that's not the word I'm looking for either. Oh, well. Sorry. Veteran. That's it. Veteran.
Chris: Oh, veteran.
Kirk: The LP . . .
Chris: Oh, okay.
Kirk: . . . FM veteran, Chris Tarr.
Kirk: Yeah. Thanks for joining us, Chris. By the way, and your community station's just looking awesome. Thanks for sharing pictures on Facebook about what you guys are doing there in Milwaukee.
Chris: And by the way, anybody who happens to be passing through Milwaukee, let me know. I'd love to give tours.
Kirk: Ah. Well. You mean tours of the beer plant or the radio station?
Chris: We could do both. I'm always up for the beer tour.
Kirk: I want to go to that dude that's got the microphone museum.
Chris: Ah, yes, yes, that's also fantastic [inaudible 01:02:39.]
Kirk: Yeah, so we've got to hit the beer, your station, and the mic museum.
Chris: Sounds like a plan to me.
Kirk: All right. And cheese soup, or whatever it is y'all eat up there. All right. All right, thanks for being with us on This Week in Radio Tech. Sanjay Jolly and Will Floyd have been our guests from prometheusradio.org.
And if you want to download the show, or watch it again, or subscribe to our podcast, go to this week in radiotech.com. Or, you can go to our host which is gfqnetwork.com, and you can see the same shows there.
I want to thank everybody for being with us and thank Telos for sponsoring the show with the Telos Hx1 and Hx2. You guys have a good day and we'll see you next time on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye everybody.
Announcer: That's all the bandwidth we can pilfer this week. Another TWiRT has propagated, and all the transmitters and audio equipment live happily ever after thanks to the handsome engineer and his kind benevolent care. We'll be back next week. [Sound effects]
This Week in Radio Tech. Subscribe to iTunes and you'll never miss a show. Search for This In Week in Radio Tech in the iTunes Store. Soliciting is strictly encouraged. If you liked today's show, tell a friend. If you didn't like it, we were never here. Kirk Harnack's wardrobe provided by the Salvation Army and the Red Cross Disaster Relief Services. Hair and makeup provided by Patty Lupe Garcia-Hernandez-Weinberg. [Sound effects]
This ends this transmission. Tango, Whisky, India, Romeo, Tango. Signing off. Okay.