Approval of low power FM opens up broadcasting opportunities
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Liz Hunt

The Federal Communications Committee has decided to offer low-power FM signals to small radio stations that have been unable to obtain a frequency on a previously very crowded FM dial. The decision may pave the way for Haverford’s own incipient radio station, WHRC, to increase its number of listeners using one of the new local FM frequencies. Ever since its creation last year the station has struggled to be heard on campus as a result of poor reception.

The decision, released on Jan. 20, said that the FCC “voted to create a class of radio stations designed to serve very localized communities or underrepresented groups within communities by authorizing two new classes of non-commercial low-power FM radio services (LPFM).”

For the last year, FCC chairman Bill Kennard has been pushing for local FM signals. Opposition from the National Association of Broadcasting (NAB) made many people, including Haverford student activities coordinator Zach First, think that there was a “snowball’s chance in hell” that the FCC would agree. The NAB complained that radio interference would cause static for commercial stations and decrease their listenership. The national organization has much more influence and resources than the colleges, churches and minute groups who desire the policy change for whom the FCC’s decision was a victory of biblical proportions.

With Kennard’s help, the FCC approval authorized a pair of different services, one with 50 to 100 watts of power and a service radius of approximately 3.5 miles, and the other with power from 1 to 10 watts and a service radius of one to two miles.

WHRC, Haverford College’s own radio station, has already taken action this week. Members have contacted LPB, the company that helped them set up the current AM service that is offered, which is working on an application for LPFM radio service. “As soon as action can be taken, it will, and we will have an FM station, pending all licensing and engineering stipulations, as soon as it is humanly possible,” said Sarah Craft, General Manager of the station. “We are incredibly excited about the FCC’s decision and cannot believe that things have come together so well. We not only are pursuing this endeavor, but we also hope to be streaming over the internet starting in the next few months.”

Jon Miller, one of the key people responsible for WHRC’s rebirth last spring, said that he hopes to have an FM station by the fall of 2000.

What does this mean for the Haverford community? An FM service would provide better range and sound quality since it is broadcast in stereo rather than mono sound which emits the same sound from all speakers. Sarah Craft is optimistic that this improvement will increase the number of listeners, a major goal for the relatively new station.

When the station was founded in May of 1999, it had lofty goals. The mission statement says, “WHRC Radio will dynamically create change at Haverford College by providing an audio community forum, exposing the community to diverse cultures, music, and opinions. [The station] will excite a new awareness among Haverford students. WHRC will function as a valuable source of information, dialogue, entertainment, exposure of minority views and offer new visions of what Haverford College could be.”

The consensus seems to be that with a higher-powered, higher-quality station, WHRC will be able to reach more people, and thus have more of an impact. Miller commented, “I hope that having a strong FM signal that can reach a large community will help make WHRC into a real force on campus, a vehicle for social change, a haven for cultural diversity, and help Haverford progress beyond its static and conservative present. I hope we can eventually live up to the ambitious mandate of our charter.”

The FCC decision seems to have come at a good time for WHRC. They are quickly progressing from an upstart radio station, broadcast through the walls, to a more traditional college station. Changing over to LPFM may be exactly what the station needs in order to increase the listener base, and thus start to promote change and discussion in the Haverford community.

While the paperwork and installation of equipment may take a number of months, Zach First feels very comfortable in the hands of LPB. He says now that the application is in, LPB will come to the areas of their clients to perform engineering surveys in order to figure out which frequencies would cause the least interference locally. These results will be sent to the FCC this spring along with a package of additional information.

If Haverford is approved, there would be restrictions on how WHRC could broadcast. The FCC requires that these smaller stations maintain the low-power wattage and remain commercial-free. This means that all programming, currently ten to twelve hours every day, must have no advertising and that WHRC generate all of its revenue elsewhere. First adds that selling t-shirts, local fund-raising and other sales are fine as long as there is nothing on the air. Whether a deejay could mention a sponsor’s name is unsure, but First doubts that the FCC will permit such a plug.

Overall, the equipment necessary for local FM broadcasting would run the school a maximum one-time fee of $10,000, however First says, “My suspicion is that we’ll come in under that but because this is so new…we just don’t know yet.”

He is investigating possible locations for a single antenna on campus. In compliance with Craft’s comments, First says, “The biggest road block is the signal people are receiving or not receiving.” Once the FM broadcast enables students to use the better frequency, he feels interest will grow even more.

“The whole organization is young,” says First of the WHRC crew. First hopes that, should the signal be strong enough, WHRC could easily become a bi-college station. With twice the student participation the station could develop into a 24-hour source of stereo entertainment.

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