5 Somewhat Easy Steps to Launching a Low-Power FM Station

Low-power FM (LPFM) stations are a great asset to community-based organizations. From churches to colleges to nonprofit organizations, LPFMs can add to any program willing to share their mission to the surrounding area.

I launched a LPFM station in 2016 after three years of planning and building. While it was a career-defining experience, it wasn’t hassle free. I wish I knew then what I know now.

I had worked for full-power commercial and noncommercial stations up until that point. Those station were ready made. I had never launched a brand new station before.

It was a learning curve. Fortunately, I had a background in radio to help me maneuver the terminology and technology. I can’t imagine going it on my own blind.

So, I’m creating a series of guides to help you on your LPFM journey. I define the jargon and create step-by-step lists to help you long.

What Is A LPFM?

A low-power FM station is limited to 100 watts and a broadcast radius of 3.5 miles from the transmission site. That said, you may be able to listen further out from the area of origin.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which governs broadcast stations, allowed the illusion of LPFMs in 2000 to boost community-based radio.

Any organization–nonprofit or commercial–can own a LPFM station. Usually, schools and churches apply for LPFMs, but it’s not uncommon for nonprofit arts or humanitarian organizations to apply as well.

Before applying, there are some very specific steps you must take during the planning process.

Preliminary Steps And Planning

Signals are scarce. Before considering whether to embark on the radio journey, make sure LPFM signals are available in your area. FCC has a locator on their website.

As with any build, the most important aspect is location, location, location. The antenna is very small. It needs to be perched on a high enough surface like a roof or light pole.

You need to decide where the facilities will be located, even if the programming is coming from a lonely computer.

Once you decide the location, you use the coordinates on the application.

You need to consider the cost of the equipment. At bare minimum, you will need the antenna, transmitter, emergency alert system, a computer, automation software, and a console.

If you include a staff for on-air operations, you will need additional equipment, including high-quality microphones.

Like all other licensed stations, LPFMs need an on-call engineer. It best to consult a certified broadcast engineer to help with the application process and station build.

Application Process

Once you have all of the information for the location of the antenna, you can begin the application process.

FCC will post a public notice indicating when the LPFM application window opens and closes. You can only apply during those times.

The window traditionally opens every few years. If you miss the window, you may have to wait several years before the opportunity to apply presents itself.

Information on how to electronically file an application is located on the FCC website.

Applications are approved within a few months after the application window closes. The length of acceptance is based on how many applications are recieved.

Construction Permit

Once the application is approved, you will receive a construction permit. The permit allows you to build your station.

Building a station doesn’t refer to actual construction. It means you can order the equipment and start mounting the antenna.

The construction permit is good for 18 months. If you haven’t finished the process of launching your station by then, don’t worry. You can apply for an additional 18 month extension.

This is the time to secure funding for your station. Three years is not very long in the grand scheme of things. It will pass you by quickly.

During this time, you need to choose the station’s call sign. The call sign is the four letter station designation starting with a W or K.

The station’s call sign cannot be in use already. You can reserve a call sign on the FCC’s website.

Engineering Audit

Once the engineer has installed the antenna, transmitter, and all of the other deices that make a radio station, they will conduct an audit.

The audit phase ensures the station signal doesn’t overlap other signals and the emergency alert system works during a weather emergency.

Once the engineer decides the process is complete, you are ready to broadcast.


After the station starts broadcasting, apply for the license. The engineer can help with this process.

The license will arrive by mail. It must be posted inside the station’s control room at all times.

Licenses are good for seven years. The next license renewal period is in 2027-2030, depending on the state.

Helpful Tips

Here are things I wish I knew before building a LPFM:

  • Hire a consultant or engineer: There are individuals and companies that specialize in LPFM construction. They do all the leg work for you. These services do come with a fee.
  • Beware scams: The application process is completely public. Anyone can look up who submitted an application. Scammers may send your organization solicitations of their “services.”
  • Secure funding: Funding is the most time-consuming portion of the process. A transmitter costs $10,000. Quality equipment is not cheap. You can’t skimp on an engineer or an emergency alert system.

If you need more detailed information on building an LPFM station, we have you covered. Find all the information you need in our LPFM series.

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