How to License Your Station

The FCC is expected to start taking applications for Low Power FM stations as early as May, 2000 (a National Association of Broadcasters lawsuit is not expected to delay implementation of the rules) and they will make an announcement 30 days before they take applications for new stations in a particular area. There will be a 5 day window within which to file an application for a station in each particular area. It will be easiest to file an application electronically over the internet. The FCC will make the first “cut”, if there are more than one application for a particular available station, based on a point system. An applicant can get a maximum of 3 points: one for establishing “community presence” of the organization, one for “proposed operating hours” and one for “local program origination.”

Any group bothering to apply had better have all three “points” nailed down, because only applicants with all three points will be eligible to participate in the next round to resolve mutually exclusive applications, which is where the real action is. “Established community presence” means that the group has existed in the community to be served by the station for at least 2 years prior to applying. Any group pledging to operate for at least 12 hours a day will get a point for “Proposed operating hours.” A group will get another point by pledging to locally originate at least 8 hours of programming per day under the “Local program origination” test.

If more than one group applies for a single license and they al have three points, the FCC will give all such groups 30 days to submit a time sharing proposal, giving each group involved in the agreement at least 10 hours per week. If every group applying for the available station agrees, the FCC will give all of them a joint license. Alternatively, and this is the crucially important aspect of this process, the FCC will add up all of the points if a subset of the groups applying, but not al of them, reach a time-share agreement.

How might this work in practice? Say 10 groups, all with 3 points, apply for the same station. Say 9 of them are religious broadcaster, and one is your local alternative free speech group. The 9 religious broadcasters will just split up the week, add their 3 points each and have 27 points vs 3 for the free speech group. This math strongly indicates that if free speech advocates want to get on the air, they need to organize sympathetic non-profit groups in their community so that many, many groups apply for each license, with a prior understanding that they will reach a time-share agreement and therefore add up their points. As stated above, only groups that can get all three points should bother to apply. Therefor free speech advocates need to get established groups (that have been around at least 2 years) to apply.

There are a lot of ways to cooperate/ A local high school could take 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. when school is in session, the local Unitarian (or other lefty) Church could take Sunday, a couple of free speech groups could take evenings, and really strange groups could take the middle of the night.

If numerous groups make mutually exclusive applications and they can’t work out a time-share agreement, the FCC will take up to 8 organizations “with the longest established community presence” and award each of them at least a one year license, the whole thing running for 8 years.

The National Lawyers Guild has a sample application available on their website,, and is hoping to offer technical support. (They’re seeking major donations to set up a technical clearinghouse, so if you’re rich, send ‘em a million.) They’re at 588 Capp Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 522-9814.