LPFM Journey – Part II

This is Part II in a series of posts that I will document my church’s journey in starting a LPFM radio station. Read Part I here. Read Part III here.

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Are you ready for more LPFM talk? Here we go!

Setup Costs

So, how much will it cost to go on the air? Here’s some numbers I compiled from Prometheus Radio and Low Power Fm for Dummies. Please have some patience with my inexperience on a lot of this. I may not get all the numbers and details exactly right, but I do want people to understand the scale of setting up a station. As we go through this process I will update with more accurate information.

Last time, we looked at the application process to have a LPFM station in the U.S. It is highly recommended that you work with professionals for your application. There are aspects that you will need a knowledgeable engineer to put together. There are companies that will handle all of this for a fee. This varies greatly, but I’m seeing $500-$3,000 as good ballpark figures.

You will need a transmitter. Make sure it is FCC Type Certified. I hear some will claim this when they are not, so best to stick with reputable manufacturers. Expect $3,000-$6,000.

You will need a broadcast antenna. There are many options out there, and it looks like you can spent $200-$2,000 based on the models I see recommended.

You will need a broadcast tower to put your antenna on. You really need to have this figured out before you get your application in. You can file an amendment to your application if there needs to be any changes.

You can have one installed on your property or perhaps somewhere else that you negotiate a location. I don’t really know how to price this part, but I see used towers starting at around $2,000 and going way up from there. This is another area that you probably want to hire an expert.

Another option if you do not a place to put up your own antenna or perhaps you are located in a poor place to put one, is to rent space on existing towers. You may get lucky and find someone that will work with you because of how little power LPFM stations use. I’m hearing you can expect around $250-$500, but I’m sure there are many factors that can drastically affect those prices.

If you tower is remote or even distant from your broadcast building, you may need to build a shed or shelter for your equipment near the tower. You will also need a rack to mount your equipment. You will likely need some sort of ventilation or even climate control. Electronics produce heat and too much heat is not good for electronics.

If your tower is offsite then you will probably also need equipment to transmit your signal from your studio to your transmitter. This can be done with internet or wireless connections.

You are required to have an Emergency Alert System that will broadcast weather alerts and such. These can cost around $3,000.

All told, you are probably looking at $15,000-$20,000 minimum to get on the air… and we haven’t even got into the studio yet!

Studio Costs

The cost of setting up a broadcast studio can vary greatly. You can get on the air for maybe $2,000 and you can also spend $100,000 easy for top of the line, brand new equipment.

Are you renting a space? That’s an expense.

Have electricity? That’s an expense.

Need internet? That’s an expense.

Furniture? You could use folding chairs and tables or you could hire master craftsmen to custom build everything.

You will need an audio console. This is the backbone of your broadcast as all audio is processed through it. I priced some recommended models at $700 to $3,500, but they keep going way up from there. Most depends on how many inputs you need (fewer = cheaper) and how many “bells and whistles” you want.

You will need microphones. You could spend $10 on one (please don’t) or you can literally spend $1,000’s on one. Two models that are affordable and have a good reputation are the Shure SM57 and SM58. These retail for $99.

If you have mics you need mic stands or booms. You can spend $20 or $400 on these.

You need headphones to wear while on the air. You can get by with $5 ones are you can spend $1,000’s. There are plenty of good options around $100.

You will need playback devices like CD players, cassette decks, and turntables (depending on how old school you want to go).

Think of all the miscellaneous cords and adapters too!

How about a website? Domain and hosting are going to run at least $150 a year.

The good thing for a church LPFM station is that you probably already have space and some equipment (you have a PA system, after all). One thing to consider is the studio space really needs to be dedicated space. You need to be able to protect the equipment and also be able to broadcast without interruptions and unnecessary background noise.

Music Licenses

Are you going to play copyrighted music? Then you need licenses.

To play music on air, you need licenses from:

If you also stream your station online, there are additional licenses from the three entities above. There is also one more that is specific to streaming:

There is also a form with $50 fee that also needs to be submitted to the US Copyright office to use copyrighted recordings online. This is a one-time filing.

But just because you have these licenses does not mean you are free to play whatever whenever. There are some stipulations that come with them. You also need to track the copyrighted music you play online and submit reports.

So, just to be legal you are going to spend at least $1,000 a year for licensing, over $2,000 if you stream online. If you do not take the steps to be legal you can be fined, sued, and lose your license.

Manpower

Most LPFM stations seem to rely on volunteers to keep live programming on the air. For a church, it can be an investment to have staff man the station.

You can automate much of what goes out on the airwaves, so you do not have to have someone 24/7. The problem with this is that it does not create a reason for anyone to listen. Apps like Pandora, Stitcher, or Spotify, can do the same thing… and probably better! Listeners connect to the personalities over the air even more than they do music.

I’d suggest taking a look at other LPFM stations of all types and see how they manage their on air talent. You can likely find a model that works for you.

Funding a LPFM Station

LPFM stations must be owned by non-profit organizations. They are not commercial stations and there are strict rules to prevent them from becoming those. There are some interesting restrictions and requirements that you need to be aware of. Here’s the first one:

You cannot have advertising on an LPFM station. Period. You cannot sell or run ads. Since this is the primary source of income for commercial stations, you can already tell that funding a LPFM station is going to be difficult. Of course when you factor in the limited range they have there may not be many advertisers interested.

What you can do is receive contributions and and acknowledge them on air, a process called underwriting. This gets very technical. You can acknowledge that a business supports your station, but you cannot promote their business with a call to action (“…go visit them at….”) or promote their sales (“…everything is half off today…”). Confusing? Yes, yes it is. The FCC provides some guidelines but it can be pretty tricky.

Of course you can always just accept donations because you are a non-profit. Or if you are a church you can just fund it as a ministry. Or sell t-shirts and “merch”. Or you can get creative (but stay legal!).