LPFM draws support in House subcommittee


Members of Congress, the FCC and consumer/watchdog groups all seemed to think making it easier to license LPFM stations by eliminating 3rd adjacency interference protection was a good idea – and they also had an underpinning argument that will be tough to refute. Although a pair of Republicans on the committee resisted the idea, as did panelist broadcaster Caroline Beasley, it has bipartisan sponsors and this tricky question for the NAB: If 3rd adjacency is OK for 250 watt translators, why isn’t it OK for 100 watt LPFMs?

Testifying on the matter were Beasley, Executive Vice President and CFO, Beasley Broadcast and vice-chair of the NAB Radio Board; Peter Doyle, Chief, Audio Division, Media Bureau, Federal Communications Commission; and Cheryl A. Leanza, Policy Director, United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.

Sponsors Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Lee Terry (R-NE) both spoke in favor of their H.R. 1147, the Local Community Radio Act of 2009. Doyle said his Pittsburgh area constituents could really use LPFM now in the wake of the only Urban stations in the market being sold to a non-profit religious organization. Ranking Member Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and former radio owner Greg Walden (R-OR) both called for more study.

However, FCC’s Doyle said that there’s been more than enough study. He admitted that there would be some interference in 3rd adjacent situations, but insisted that in almost all cases it would be limited to 100 or 200 meters from the LPFM transmitter. He said the FCC was sure there would be no problem based on its extensive experience with FM translators, which can broadcast with two and a half times more power than the strongest LPFM.

Beasley argued that any interference would be too much in an emergency, when listeners may be relying on a full power station for vital information. She also said that the FCC disputed some of the testing, particularly the Mitre report that the FCC used to justify allowing 3rd adjacencies when promoting the idea before Congress.

Leanza countered that LPFM was a boon to the local community, and said that in times of emergency they are small enough and portable enough to act, citing one instance when a station headed for high ground and began broadcasting off of a car battery. She said 3rd adjacent CPs are needed to bring LPFM to the top 50 markets, which to date have only one such station.

Under questioning, FCC’s Doyle told Rep. Doyle again that he did not think there would be any interference problem with 3rd adjacent LPFMs at all, based on the FCC’s translator experience. And Beasley was unable to explain to Doyle why it was OK to run a 250 watt FM translator on a 3rd adjacent channel, but not OK to run a 100 watt LPFM on the same channel. And Doyle confirmed that there were plenty of FM translators operating on 3rd adjacents.

Walden grilled FCC’s Doyle on reporting requirements for LPFMs, establishing that they do not have main studio rules, public file rules, etc. They are expected to have local ownership and Doyle said preference was given to applicants who guaranteed eight hours of daily locally-originated programming. He said the idea was to limit requirements so the small stations could more easily get off the ground.

RBR/TVBR observation: This bill had a hearing in a subcommittee, so it has a long long way to go before it makes it into law. But unless NAB finds a way to address the translator/LPFM interference paradox, it’s hard to see how it can prevent this bill from moving forward.