The Federal Communications Commission calls its new offspring “low-power FM radio,” but several Central Oregon non-profits banding together to seek a license vow a lot of powerful, good things would come onto the local airwaves, should they succeed.
Things like arts performances, rebroadcast of government meetings at convenient times, and discussion of local issues from the environment to land use, politics and the arts, as well as educational programs for young and old.
It’s likely to be a year or more before the 97 Oregon groups and agencies that have applied for the 100-watt licenses – including 16 in Central Oregon – learn whether they have won a broadcasting license or will be directed to band together with others to share a station’s frequency.
A long-delayed, five-day application “window” was open June 11-15 for organizations in Oregon and several other states to file their applications. Eight came from Bend (six in a loose coalition), two each from Sisters, Madras and Gilchrist, one from the Sunriver Owners Association and one from Prineville.
The new LPFM service will consist of 100-watt stations, serving areas within a radius of about 3 ½ miles, and 10-watt stations, to be offered later, that would serve areas within a circle of only one or two miles. They will be geographically spaced to prevent interference with the signals of existing FM stations on the same frequency (channel) and up to two channels away.
The radio service is to be strictly non-commercial, so eligibility was limited to public or private educational groups, and government or non-profit entities providing local public safety or transportation services. There are other limits aimed at fostering local ownership and diversity, such as a ban on any existing broadcaster or media entity eligible for an LPFM station.
Groups competing for area’s frequency likely will be told to team up
Competing applications for the same frequency in a community will be resolved through a scoring system that awards applicants points for longevity (a community presence of at least two years before the application) and plans for operation (pledging to operate at least 12 hours a day, and that at least eight of those hours are of local origination.)
When competing applicants have equal points, the FCC will encourage time-sharing among the applicants on a given frequency. Competing applicants who resubmit their applications together can aggregate their points, thus winning out over single applicants with fewer points.
If such partnerships don’t come about, however, exclusive applicants will be awarded successive terms of at least a year each. Most LPFM licenses will be renewable at the end of eight-year license terms, but the shared licenses won’t be – a big incentive to work together.
And that’s just what is happening in Bend, where Darcy McNamara, former head of the Bend Riverway Project, and some lady friends came up with the idea of a coalition of would-be broadcasters among local non-profits that wouldn’t want a whole station to themselves.
“Me and a couple of friends who get together for lunch said, `This is so cool – we can’t pass this up,” McNamara said.
McNamara’s group, also one of the applicants, calls itself the “Women’s Civic Improvement League.” (That name should sound familiar to Bend history buffs; it’s the name of a group active in 1919 in Bend, spearheaded by May Arnold, and which convinced the city commission to save the waterfront from a proposed housing development, thus giving birth to Drake Park.)
Groups seeking `community radio station’ run spectrum of non-profits
In its application for the LPFM license, the group stated, “A low-power community radio station with programming focused on civic issues will be a strategic way to fulfill our mission … of increasing community involvement (and) promoting learning opportunities on community issues.”
“Growing from a small town into a mid-sized city is extremely difficult, and the community has become fractured,” the group said. “A community radio station will provide WCIL a way to present the many different views of the citizenry in a variety of formats.”
Participants that also applied for the license at frequency 106.7 mhz include the Central Oregon Environmental Center, Green Guides, Arts Central, Conservation for Central Oregon Inc. (doing business as The Recycling Team) and the Human Dignity Coalition.
Each laid out in its application how the low-power FM station could advance their educational efforts, from the Human Dignity Coalition’s talks on human rights issues or Spanish programs to discussions about land use, native plants, Commute Options or other causes from the environmental center’s many projects.
Each of the six groups pitched in $100 to help pay for a broadcast engineering consultant from Portland, McNamara. Initially, the intention was to put the antenna on a water tank in the south end of town, but instead the plan calls for putting the 20-foot antenna on Awbrey Butte, where there’s plenty of towers to potentially “co-locate” with.
Low-power FM is “pretty much line of site,” McNamara said. “But the problem is, the higher you go, we have to knock our power down to about four watts. The reason we picked Awbrey is we’ll have a lot of options. We can move down the hill, but then we could get blocked. We’re hoping four watts would get us around (town).”
’More unknowns than knowns’ at this point, local organizer says
Filing the application itself is free, though legal and engineering consultants were paid for help in many cases. The FCC has noted that the cost of building and running one of the new low-power stations can vary widely, depending on the equipment used and how a studio is furnished.
Still, it’s early in the process – and considering that it’s the federal government in charge, nobody is counting their chickens before they hatch.
“Right now, there are more unknowns than knowns,” McNamara said. “At some point – we’ve been told six months from now or more – the FCC will announce which applications are mutually exclusive, meaning that we have to work things out amongst ourselves to share a single frequency. Those lucky groups will have 30 days to do that and get back to the FCC.”
“Since we really don’t know which applications will make it through the gauntlet, we can’t really say there is a formal coalition,” she said. “But we are all very excited to be working toward bringing community radio to Bend. We all realize it will take a lot of work, and we need all the help we can get, once we get a construction permit. All of the groups involved are very committed to a station that represents all voices in Bend.”
The Sunriver owners group likely would use its proposed station (at 106.5 mhz) for public safety purposes, according to Diane Roseborough, such as evacuation information in the event of wildfire or other serious situation. “We feel confident ours is going to go through,” she said, noting that the antenna would be attached to an existing antenna atop a Sunriver fire station, if Deschutes County approves.
As you might expect, the most detailed early plans were submitted by the two public school entities in the mix: Central Oregon Community College and the Sisters School District, each of which applied for the 106.5-megahertz frequency – and, since it’s low power, easily could both use that same spot on the dial, due to their separated distances.
COCC, Sisters schools would work station into curriculum
COCC English (speech and writing) professor Jon Bouknight said the college’s antenna would be put where a cell phone company has leased an on-campus tower site of roughly 40 feet. The plan calls for creating an applied communications program, similar to what Lane Community College offers through its higher-power FM station, KLCC.
“I would have asked to share time with KLCC, but they don’t have transmitters here, they have translators,” Bouknight said.
The proposal includes a list of classes and weekly programming, from “bed time stories” to recreational info, student body news, folk and women’s music, a teen show, even a Celtic hour, blues, jazz, Broadway musicals, R&B and a two-hour weekly children’s program.
“We tried to put together what the station would be providing,” Bouknight said. “It would be impossible to provide all that without plenty of community input.”
“This radio station has got to happen – this community needs it,” the professor added. “I get contacted at least once a month from someone in the community, asking if the college has a radio station. I just add them to my list.” (After all, while the station’s will be non-commercial, there’s the likelihood donations to underwrite the operating costs would be sought.)
Sisters schools would make the LPFM radio station “an integral part of the curriculum at Sisters High School,” their application stated. It would be coupled with the district-owned “Outlawnet,” the area’s largest Internet service provider.
Sisters school’s station would broadcast news, also help tourists with traffic, parking
A daily 10-minute video of school and community news, broadcast on a closed-circuit TV station, would be expanded to include daily local radio news reports in the morning, at lunch and after school. Plans call for broadcasting city council, school board and chamber of commerce meetings, as well as school sporting events, graduation and school concerts. Those other local groups are anxious to utilize such a station’s educational opportunities, officials said.
Some of the weekend broadcasts also would be aimed at promoting and assisting with the many tourist events in Sisters, providing information on traffic, parking and weather.
Among the other local applications (available to review through the search engine at http://www.fcc.gov) are the BLR Corp. in Bend, also seeking the 106.7-mhz frequency, describe as “an outgrowth of the Bend Seventh-day Adventist Church.
While the corporation lists among its objectives “to provide religious instruction and moral teaching,” the group said the station’s “programming will be directed to listeners of all backgrounds and ages,” with subjects to “include family development, child rearing and education, health information and religion.”
The Central Oregon Educational Radio Corp. seeks a LPFM license for 102.1 mhz in Madras, though it has a Bend mailing address. The group’s application said the “organization was formed to educate and inform local citizens about opportunities to become involved in local events and for purposes of expounding the beauty as well as the dangers of the Oregon High Desert. We plan to invite participation from local Native Americans in broadcasting programs.”
Prineville resident Arthur Bigelow submitted an application for an LPFM station at 93.3 mhz for a group he called “Club-Ed,” which he said has “had an active presence in Prineville since 1940.” In an application apparently filled with misspellings (or perhaps hard for FCC inputters to read), Bigelow said, “Club-Ed is dedicated to bring a realization the aera that to be at pease with self and our neighbors, we must develope the hole person.”
Others in area also vying for new FM licenses; satellite radio (for pay) also on horizon
Wayne Schultz of Madras filed for an LPFM license at 99.3 mhz, on behalf of the Gibbins School, a K-8 school “dedicated to teaching the whole child physicaly, mentaly, socialy and spiritualy.” He said the station “will teach the students skills for life as well as responsibility, ethics, and how to treat others as they would want to be treated.”
Scott Jahn of Terrebonne also seeks the 106.7-mhz frequency license in Sisters, for what he calls “Sisters Community Radio.” With similar apparent spelling problems, the application states, “We intent to broadcast beside music a series on health and social skills. We will also life skills om how to find real happyness.”
To the south, in Gilchrist, the Gilchrist School is seeking a 103.1-mhz LPFM license, while the Crescent-Gilchrist Community Action Team has applied for a low-power license at 106.5 on the FM dial.
Low-power FM isn’t the only big new development on the radio horizon. At the other end of the spectrum, so to speak, is the imminent arrival of “satellite radio,” which will offer people high-quality, digital music or other programming, anywhere in the country – but for a fee, of $9.95 a month for 100 stations, 30 of them commercial-free. You’ll also need a new radio, at first expected to cost around $300.
But at the low-end, “people’s” side of the radio dial, around the nation, everyone from state transportation departments to private schools and chambers of commerce have applied for and in many cases won low-power FM licenses.
Even though the application process began early last year in other areas of the country, the first construction permits weren’t granted until this spring, so the success of the FCC’s effort, in promoting more community voices, is very much a tale still being written.