Start a Neighborhood Radio Station for $1,000 Next Week


Low 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 prospective broadcasters. 

LPFM and Part 15 Comparison

How soon can I start a station?

  • LPFM - 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 even longer
  • 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 network).

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 business.

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 transmitters
    (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 programming.

    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 of times.

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 conditions.

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 good area.

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 mile. 
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.

FCC 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 emissions.

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.

http://www.am1000ra 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 radiator.

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 ....


Alan McCall, Delta Star Radio of Florida Inc. http://www.wjjd1160 - http://www.musicbox (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 programming.  

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.


I 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 to
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  They have several Rangemasters linked together.