Thursday, December 6, 2012

Will Low-Power FM Stations Help Local Music?

On Air image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 Blog
While radio is decidedly old school media, it's still utilized a lot more than you think. Traditional radio is listened to more than twice as much as its online counterpart, and it's still perfect for breaking news, sports, and general car-based entertainment. The problem is that the programming has regressed over the years, especially when it comes to music. Where radio was once vital with local sounds, now you have a certain sameness to the playlists across the country thanks to the homogenized bottom-line-first programming of the station groups that own most of the stations.

It's possible that might change a little, thanks to an unexpected ruling by the normally staid Federal Communications Commission. Yes, that same FCC that has been afraid to peek into the future lest they step on the toes of big broadcasting has given us at least the possibility of something to cheer about and it's called Low Power FM (LPFM).

Originally sanctioned in 2000, LPFM has a maximum of 100 watts and a broadcast radius of 3 miles, but thanks to the lobbying efforts by Big Broadcast, the application process wasn't particularly easy. In fact, only a single LPFM station has been commissioned since then, and the majority of applications were by entities speculating on the popularity of holding a license and cashing in, rather than building stations.

The new FCC ruling set out a streamlined process that limits the applicants to only those that will actually build a station, and eases some of the bandwidth restrictions that Big Radio insisted on to protect their turf. This will all take place next year when the new application process go into effect.

What are the implications of LPFM? Maybe none, maybe a lot. It's been proven that radio is only as good as it's programming and talent. An LPFM station probably won't have much of either, just like college radio (the poster child for low-power radio). That said, it's also not obligated to a corporate playlist, so it's possible to finally have a return to an open playlist like the glory days of early-FM in the 70s (how I long for those radio days). Back then, you never knew what you'd hear next, but if you liked the DJ, you knew you'd probably like what he or she played. With no big money involved, we can only hope that some experimentation will be in order with no reason to focus on the the lowest common denominator dictated by the marketing department.

While we can't expect LPFM to change the broadcast world, it would be nice if we had some local alternatives, even if their reach is only 3 miles. Hyper-local radio is target at your community. The question is, will your community listen?


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1 comment:

Jef Knight said...

I remember the first time I heard Frank Zappa. It's was on shortwave radio. There were no commercials. Just some unidentified pirate station somewhere in the world.
SW turned me on to all sorts of great stuff.

I'd like to fantasize that small broadcasters would do the same for a new generation.

But the cost of doing *anything* would be steep enough that even hyper-local radio stations would end up being just as commercial as Clear Channel, more or less.

Looks like my driving entertainment will be mix tape cds for a while longer.



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