The Power of Low Power

WVQC and low power FM stations (LPFMs) like it are bringing the local back to radio. These small, non-commercial stations represent community radio at its best.

What is LPFM?

LPFM stations are small, up to 100-watt radio stations with a signal reach of just a few miles. They are non-commercial, locally-owned, innovative ways for local communities to take back their airwaves.

LPFM stations provide an alternative to corporate, cookie-cutter programming on commercial radio. We’re designed to bring creativity, vitality and localism back to the FM dial.

LPFM stations are:

  • Non-commercial
  • Licensed to a non-profit
  • Locally owned
  • Broadcast locally produced programming
  • 100 watts or less

100 Watts is all you need

Some see the limited signal reach of LPFM stations (just 3-5 miles) as a liability, but we see it as a strength. It allows LPFM stations to be anchored and accountable to the community and to develop closer, more personal relationships with the neighborhoods we serve.

The smaller station also comes with a smaller budget that is more sustainable for community and non-profit groups.

History of Low Power FM

Communities didn’t always have low power to turn to. Below is a brief history of how LPFM came to be.

Pirates on the Radio

During the 1990’s the Federal Communications Commission began lifting restrictions on the number of radio stations a single corporation could own. The result was unprecedented consolidation of FM radio, which paved the way for voice-tracking, standardized playlists, homogenized formats and a sharp decline in the number of local, independent radio stations.

Not everyone was happy with the new changes. At the time, LPFM stations were illegal. Nevertheless, dozens of small, pirate radio stations popped up around the country, airing independent content and protesting radio consolidation, corporate playlists and syndicated programming. They didn’t have broadcast licenses, but the they often had the support of their community and even local legistatures.

A Low Power Victory

The strength of the pirate radio movement, along with concerns about the decline of local radio, influenced the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2000 decision to legalize LPFMs, small, non-commercial, FM radio stations operated by non-profit groups and dedicated to airing local content.

Not enough Power

The FCC’s ruling met strong opposition. Fearing competition, organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) fought to keep the low-power stations off the dial.

The NAB argued that LPFM’s would cause interference to existing stations. The FCC and an independent study, the Mitre Report, disproved their claims but the NAB succeeded in getting strict restrictions on where LPFMs could be located and kept thousands of low power stations off the air.
Hope for the Future

The Local Community Radio Act, a bill introduced in Congress last year, would lift the restrictions on LPFM stations and allow thousands more communities across the country to gain access to local radio.

The bill enjoys wide bi-partisan support in Congress and supporters are hopeful that it will pass this year.

WVQC’s Low Power License

Media Bridges, which operates WVQC applied for a low-power license in January 2001.

Seven years later, we were granted a permit to begin constructing a low-power station. WVQC plans to go on the air in Spring 2010.

Cincinnati is lucky. Less than 1,000 LPFM licenses have been issued across the country, and the FCC is not currently accepting applications for new ones.

LPFMs are almost always in rural areas. Due to placement restrictions and the crowded radio dial, few cities are fortunate enough to receive a license. Cincinnati is the largest radio market in the country to have an LPFM station.

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