Going From Online To On The Air
How to go from being online-only to an over-the-air radio station? It can be complicated, but it can be done.
A growing number of our member stations are traditional AM and/or FM broadcast outlets that have added a primary digital (DB) stream through their own website, a dedicated app, or through an aggregator, such as TuneIn, Audacy or iHeartRadio.
But what if you’re a digital-only radio station that wants to move from the internet to an over-the-air signal?
If you live in a large metropolitan area, you might as well forget buying an AM or FM station – unless you’ve got very deep pockets. Right now, for example, a standalone AM station in the Los Angeles Metro is on the market for $33-million. (That’s a 33 with six zeroes after it.)
If you’re in a rural district, you might be able to find a station that’s available at a bargain price, but the combined cost of the license, the equipment, a building to house the studio and equipment, and some real estate for your transmitter, plus the monthly utility bill – it costs real money to keep that transmitter humming – can be a surprisingly big number.
You might find a low-power FM (LPFM) license at a bargain price, you’ll have to be a not-for-profit organization, such as a community group or church. (There may be a silent LPFM in your area that is seeking a partner or a buyer. Check the FCC’s Silent FM Broadcast Stations List for stations with a “-LP” suffix, but keep in mind that some stations are simply silent due to technical difficulties.)
What about applying directly to the FCC for a new AM or FM station? Forget about it. The last FCC auction for a handful of new FM radio station licenses closed recently with bidding that drove available frequencies even in remote areas into the stratosphere. The public may think that radio is a dying industry, but there is still gold in those licenses!
One solution you may want to strongly consider is “Part 15” broadcasting, which legally permits you to transmit your signal over the air on standard frequencies in the United States.
What Is “Part 15”?
“Part 15” of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations outlines the rules for unlicensed low-power broadcasting, including AM radio transmitters like the Procaster or Hurricane. These rules specify what a broadcaster can and cannot do within the limits of unlicensed broadcasting on the standard AM (510-1710 kHz.) and FM (88.1-107.9 MHz.) bands.
Here’s a summary of what Part 15 allows and prohibits:
- Operation of low-power AM and FM radio stations without a license, as long as they comply with the technical requirements set forth in the regulations.
- Use of specific frequency bands and power levels for unlicensed broadcasting.
- Broadcasting for a limited range of a few hundred feet to a few miles.
- Use of certain types of antennas and transmission lines.
- Broadcasting with a power output above the limits set by the regulations.
- Interfering with licensed radio stations or other electronic devices.
- Broadcasting obscene, indecent, or profane content.
- Advertising products or services for profit.
- Using unlicensed broadcasting for any illegal activity.
It’s worth noting that even though Part 15 allows for unlicensed broadcasting, the FCC may still enforce the rules and take action against broadcasters who violate them.
Keep in mind also that Low-Power AM (LPAM) is not subject to FCC licensing in the United States, but Low-Power FM (LPFM) class stations, which generally operate with 100 watts, do require a license from the FCC. Micro-Power FM (MPFM) broadcasting is also unlicensed, but is severely restricted by transmitter output limitations.
You may consider going rogue as a pirate broadcaster, using an uncertified foreign-built transmitter – AM or FM – that puts out 5, 10 or even 100 watts of power. We highly recommend that you don’t; the FCC will raid your home, they will confiscate your broadcasting equipment (including any computers or other devices that you utilize), they will assess a big punitive fine, and they will block you from ever being involved in the ownership or operation of a licensed broadcast station.
Low-Power Broadcast Options
You may already be familiar with some of the small, “street legal” AM transmitters such as the plug-and-play Talking House units that are popular with realtors and tourist attractions – they are very simple to set up, generally run under $200, and provide good audio quality.
Talking House also offers an extender and tuner to increase the unit’s broadcast coverage.
If you are looking for a more “professional grade” low-power AM (LPAM) option, we recommend* the Procaster from Canada-based ChezRadio. The Procaster is one of the smartest devices we’ve seen, with a built-in antenna that meets Part 15 standards, and a sophisticated, self-contained transmitter that delivers high-quality sound.
The Procaster also provides outstanding signal strength over a wider area, especially when mounted at a sufficient height and proper grounding.
Gerry Herlinger, who runs ChezRadio and is the brains behind the Procaster, is very proactive with his customers and will provide you with excellent advice and guidance in setting your unit up.
The Procaster transmitter is easily switchable to transmit on your choice of AM-band frequencies from 1290 to 1710 kHz., which should give you several excellent options for open frequencies in your area. Without modification, the Procaster is certified by the FCC for use in the United States, and by Industry Canada for use in Canada.
Its range is typically between one-half of a mile and two miles – again, depending on your location, ground conductivity, and optimum tuning of the unit, which includes a built-in tuning meter, as well as a built-in PLL quartz synthesizer, audio processor, automatic power control system, and full-range, high-fidelity sound.
For complete information on the Procaster, please click here – and tell Gerry that you heard about the Procaster from us!*
* – We do not receive an advertising commission or affiliate fee for recommending this product. We simply feel that it’s a quality product that you should give a closer look and consider.