a Neighborhood Radio Station for $1,000 Next Week
Power FM has been the best, easiest, and most affordable way for
churches, ministries, schools, and community groups to start their
own local radio station. CCB (Christian Community
Broadcasters) has provided advice, FCC filing assistance, and/or
equipment to more than 100 LPFM broadcasters. In 2008 Part 15
AM microradio has replaced LPFM as "first choice" by many
and Part 15 Comparison
soon can I start a station?
2011 or later. The FCC has not a "Filing
Window" since 2001 for new LPFM stations. Even with
passage of the Community Radio Law of 2010, no one - not even
the FCC - when the next window will be." After
filing, FCC processing time can take months
... or years
- Part 15 AM - Immediately. Be on the air next
week. No FCC license required.
What FCC regulations apply?
- LPFM - The FCC has hundreds of pages of regulations
covering LPFM's ownership, operation, RF equipment, power,
application process, type programming, etc.
Part 15 AM - Legally, an AM microradio operation is an
"intentional radiator," not a "radio station."
CCB believes that someone who owns an LPFM can also operate a
Part 15. Power and length transmission are
regulated. FCC approved RF equipment must be used.
If a Part 15 does interfere, it can be ordered to stop.
Part 15 stations are not assigned call letters. The FCC
keeps no records related to Part 15 operators.
Coverage area? (affected by interference from other stations,
terrain, trees, buildings, grounding, and receiver sensitivity).
- LPFM - Signal can reach 5-10 miles or more.
Height of antenna is important
Part 15 AM - one to two miles. 40 foot height is
enough in most cases.
Can I combine transmitters to improve coverage?
- LPFM - Very difficult and expensive. LPFM
operator can only own one station. Translators are
possible. The problem with using existing translators: (1)
they may not be where you want them and (2) the cost of
purchasing a translator license is prohibitive for small
operators. The next FCC radio window will be for LPFM,
thus the wait to apply for a new translator will be
- Part 15 AM - Yes. Easy, fast, and low cost. Like
a cell phone network, transmitters can be seamlessly linked and
synchronized together on the same frequency. One station
has linked 15 transmitters together (this may be the largest
How much is the initial expense? (not counting studio
equipment which can vary greatly)
- LPFM - Transmitter with stereo, audio processing,
antenna, transmission line, EAS system, and 80-100 foot tower
can run $10,000 to $15,000.
- Part 15 AM - $1,000 covers everything - transmitter,
antenna, and cable. Stereo is not feasible for AM.
EAS is not required. The transmitter / antenna package is
in a waterproof case and can be mounted on a roof or existing
structure. Part 15 AM does not need tall / expensive
towers required for FM.
What type RF equipment does CCB recommend and sell?
- LPFM - CCB has been selling Nicom
transmitters and antennas for years. We believe Nicom
offers the best value.
- Part 15 AM - CCB sells Rangemaster.
We believe it offers
superior coverage at a reasonable price.
How much does it cost to operate? (Other than general
overhead like rent, salaries, maintenance, and utilities)
- LPFM - Some low power stations build a tower at their
headquarters / studio location. Other pay monthly tower
rent and internet / telephone line charges to deliver their
signal from studio to tower / antenna. These costs are
several hundred dollars per month.
- Part 15 AM - Virtually no unique expenses for a single
location system; for example the power use is insignificant for
microradio (1/10 of a
watt). Probably the only added expenses for a
multi-transmitter system are internet audio-streaming fees (or
dedicated phone lines) to connect the network. Since the transmitter and antenna
together weigh less than 4 pounds, friends of the station will
probably not charge rent to mount on the roof of their home or
Can I make money with my station?
- LPFM - by law, commercials can not be aired; LPFMs are
Non-Commercial-Educational and must be owned by a non-profit
organization. It is legal to air "underwriting
announcements" but it is hard to get businesses to pay for
"tombstone" underwriting announcements.
- Part 15 AM - Yes. Commercials are legal.
How do you select a frequency for my station?
- LPFM - Engineering studies are required. In
urbanized areas no frequencies may be available. If new
interference starts, the lengthy (and possibly expensive)
process of finding a new frequency starts all over again.
- Part 15 AM - Find an empty frequency by listening to an
AM both during the day and night. Tune your transmitter to the
selected frequency (often 1610 or 1620 is best; generally a low
frequency like 540 is the worst). If you
have a future problem with interference occurs, change
frequency. You never contact or notify the FCC.
Do I need special skills to install my transmitter / antenna?
- LPFM - CCB strongly recommends that a
professional FM broadcast engineer install your equipment
- Part 15 AM - Amateur radio operators typically
have the knowledge and skill to select a site, install the
antenna, and properly ground your station. (CCB provides
detailed instructions are provided)
Who do I contact for further information or equipment?
LPFM or Part 15 AM - Contact John Broomall,
Christian Community Broadcasters: - email:
or 678 880-0676
Part 15 Rangemaster System
CCB is pleased to sell the best value in Part 15
equipment, the Hamilton Rangemaster system, made in Carey,
NC. The Rangemaster has a built in compressor/limiter/
processor. For a multi-transmitter network, various
methods can be used to link the transmitter:
(1) Over the air relay is an option, but tlisteners will have to switch frequencies as they travel between
(2) Internet audio steaming (using, for example, Barix
Instreamer and Extreamer
(3) Dedicated phone lines
Q. Do you recommend audio processing?
A. Many advocates say "yes." The Inovonics
222 processor is highly recommended (if you want more than
what is built in with Rangemaster). Only one processor is
needed for the network if all stations are airing the same
Q. Should I use call letters?
A. No. Most stations use their legal call letters
only once hourly, and prefer to use slogans such as
"Community Radio 1610." You cannot infer that
you are affiliated with a licensed station that uses certain
call letters. It is good to identify your station
regularly with contact information - phone number or address.
Q. Is AM radio "dead"
A. While FM radio of choice for modern music, talk radio
and "classic / oldies" music thrives on AM
radio. AM radio is still the leading method of aural mass
communication in the world ....
Comments on Coverage
by Keith Hamilton, creator of the Rangemaster
There are a lot of old wives tales and confusion about range, but I
deal with it every day. The most common question I get is the
FCC website 200 foot question, I'm sure I have answered it hundreds
In talking to FCC agents about why that is there, some have said it
shouldn't be there, some have said it is referring to 15.209 type
transmitters, some just don't know. Really it is the FM Part
15 unit that only gets 200 ft. Range varies all over the
board, so many factors are involved. Mostly I think the range you
get is determined by the noise floor in your area, if you are in a
rural area and have a nice, quiet hiss on the band then you may do
well, if you are in an industrial area with arcing electrical
systems to compete with you may not do well.
Other factors are height, though theory says height isn't a factor,
I have found it is important to get the transmitter above surround
obstructions. Grounding, the lower the resistance to earth,
the better. We recommend a single ground rod for lighting protection
purposes, but really, a single ground rod is a poor radio ground.
Other stations, if there are distant stations that can be an issue,
you are not supposed to interfere with other licensed stations
anyway, that is the primary rule. The FCC takes interfering with a
licensed station seriously. I tell people to expect a
listenable signal at 1-2 miles, with a sensitive radio, like a car
radio. Don't expect 2 miles unless you have optimal
One mile would be hard to get if you are in a tough noisy area, like
in a downtown metro area. If you can drive thru the area you want to
cover with your AM radio on an unused channel and hear loud hums, ac
noise, and nasty mess then likely you will have trouble. But
if you just hear a nice, consistent quiet hiss, then it should be a
So I have had people on a hill out in the country swear they were
getting 8 miles, and people in industrial areas that can't even get
I used to offer free trials, I had a fellow once ask me if the unit
could do 1 mile, I told him it could, so I sent him one on trial. He
called back, couldn't get the mile. I tried to help him over the
phone, but just couldn't get it, so he wanted to send it back, I
told him fine. As we were wrapping it up, he told me there was a
1000 watt station down the road that could not get 2.5 miles in the
area, I almost had a stroke.
How in the world did they think my little Part 15 was going to get a
mile when a 1000 watt station could not go 2.5 miles??? Turns
out they were in a highly industrialized area, electrical
substations all over the place, extremely high noise floor, I wish
he had told me that before I had gone to all that trouble!
Another time had a customer that could not get the mile, turns out
they were near a Doppler radar site, it was basically blanking all
AM reception in his area around the radar site. He had no reception
of any am stations in the area. So when I say at least a mile,
I mean under normal average
As far as "grounding" and
other issues with installation as long as you cooperate with current
rules and installation instructions, and any FCC agent that visits
you will be fine. Just like if you were operating an LPFM, if
you get a visit from the FCC, cooperate, they will tell you if they
don't like something. Most of the time they just want to be
sure you are not a pirate. I tell people to broadcast your
contact information hourly, and leave a
copy of the certification where they can find it, if they should
stop by when no one is there.
One other thing, I'm quite sure that no one has ever been fined that
had a certified transmitter. If you are a pirate and you
disappear after the first visit that is one thing. But if you
are attempting to operate legally with a certified transmitter you
should be able to do so. As I said the worst that will happen
is the FCC may want you to change or modify something, but I have
never heard of anybody that has been permanently taken off the air.
Part 15 Rules .... and what they mean
There is also a political component of this issue which is
unfortunate. It seems like this issue comes up whenever somebody
doesn't like Part 15. (not saying that is why it came up here).
SO here is the rule:
Section 15.219 Operation in the band 510 - 1705 kHz. (a) The total
input power to the final radio frequency stage (exclusive of
filament or heater
power) shall not exceed 100 milliwatts. (b) The total length
of the transmission line, antenna and ground lead (if used) shall
not exceed 3 meters. (c) All emissions below 510 kHz or above
1705 kHz shall be attenuated at least 20 dB below the level of the
unmodulated carrier. Determination of compliance with the 20 dB
attenuation specification may be based on measurements at the
intentional radiator's antenna output terminal unless the
intentional radiator uses a permanently attached antenna, in which
case compliance shall be demonstrated by measuring the radiated
The 3-meter combined length specified in Section 15.219(b)
refers to the length of all radiating elements. Attaching the ground
lead to an unshielded radiating object, or the addition of a ground
screen, will cause the effective length of radiating elements to
exceed 3 meters, in violation of Section 15.219(b). I was
e-mailed this from top enforcement and some agents, so I know it
went out to agents dealing with part 15.
ngemaster. com/groundxmit. html a link on our
site where we discuss the subject. There should be a review
and publication coming out some time from the FCC on this subject, I
am working with them on that. I have written so much on the
subject, I hesitate to go into it here, I think I may add some of it
to the website page mentioned above.
But basically to follow the letter of the law you do not want your
ground to be a radiator, if you add objects to the ground which are
obviously designed to be a radiator such as a ground screen you will
be in violation. As far as the Talking house safety ground, my
assumption would be that the house ground would not be considered a
For the person considering a Part 15 and who is concerned about
this, you would want to ask you tech/engineer about keeping your
ground from radiating/ adding to the overall radiation from the 3
meter allowed area.
Some Part 15 Stations ....
McCall, Delta Star Radio of Florida Inc. http://www.wjjd1160
country.com - http://www.musicbox
1610.com (Part 15 AM information here) - I come from
a broadcasting background, and know most of the engineers in the
area. I have never had a problem of any kind with a licensed
broadcaster. Matter of fact, Clear Channel once bought time on my
Part 15 AM as it reached an audience their cluster did not. I
use a Rangemaster transmitter. I also stream the
That said, the bulk of our audience comes from the Internet. There
are a few local listeners to the AM, but most of them appear to be
listening via the stream. I ended up in Part 15 AM due to the
frustration involved in trying to get any kind of licensed station.
If you are relatively poor, as I am, it is just not economically
feasible to participate in the auction process.
I'm still considering LPFM, but because I can air ads on both the
Part 15 AM and the stream I am doing it that way for now. Our
format is country, with a lot of classic country in the mix. I
also do a CCM program omn Sunday mornings and a Southern
Gospel show on Sunday evenings. Part 15 is not pirating,
and that is the biggest misconception to overcome. I'm glad I
started my station.
think we've been picked up at about 2.7 miles out from the
transmitter. The transmitter is mounted on top of a pole at
about 17' off the
ground. I have a small ground system with 3 or 4 radials, which I'm
going to rebuild this winter. The summer storms have not been kind
the antenna system!
My transmitter has a metering system built in, so that it is
possible to tune for optimum results. This is an option that was
worth it for me.
I have noticed that we appear to be somewhat directional. We are
beaming a bit more toward the nearest Wal-Mart parking lot, about
1/2 miles west. We do get some reception reports from there.
Surfside 1640 http;//www.surfside
1640.com They have several Rangemasters linked