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The Media

Low-Powered Radio Stations-Could They Work? 29

ebh asks: "The New York Times (free registration required) has an article today that talks about the push for legalization in the US of low-power radio. Small potential broadcasters want it. Large broadcasters don't, claiming that adding hundreds of new stations will interfere with their existing signals, even though the low-power stations will only have a broadcast range of approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km). This seems to me like a moot battle. Why fight for the right to buy expensive gear and to consume lots of electricity to broadcast over a small geographic area, when you could reach the whole world by setting up a station on the Internet?" True, a website might be easier to set up, but what if the target audience isn't the rest of the world, but the area right outside your front door? Low powered radio sounds perfect for this.
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Low-Power Radio-Is it Necessary?

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  • Wouldn't this be perfect?
    Granted I know very little of the hardware needed to broadcast signals even at this small distance, but I would have loved to be able to "host" my own radio show back when I was in high school.
    I didn't see any mention of what it takes to do in the story.. does anyone have any more info?

    Malk-a-mite

  • it would be a neat thing since high powered stations serve the advertisers and not the local community.
  • When I was in high school, I broadcasted a radio show at (of all places) the local cable company. Just like they had public access television, they also had public access radio. It was a real studio, and my friends and I broadcasted a weekly show for free!

    The only problem was to tune in required hooking your cable up to your radio, then finding our station. So, our listenership was close to 0, but it sure was fun! The experience even helped me get a summer job at a *real* radio station.

  • Why fight for the right to buy expensive gear and to consume lots of electricity to broadcast over a small geographic area, when you could reach the whole world by setting up a station on the Internet?

    Who says you need expensive gear? Didn't you ever get that electronics lab from Radio Shack as a kid? It had a manual, lots of pre-cut-and-stripped wires of various lengths, and the components were wired underneath the friendly, printed-carboard surface. Just follow the "recipe", and voila - you have [insert simple electronic device here]. One of them, I'm almost certain, was a radio wave broadcaster.

    Admittedly, there is a difference between pirating the AM radio in your parent's living room from your bedroom and suddenly talking to 10 000+ of your neighbours. But I can't see the equipment being all that much - unless they're priced to ensure low-powered radio stations don't exists. (Paranoia, anyone?) OTOH, what do you think various campus radio stations all over the continent use? The one I was at [uwaterloo.ca] certainly didn't get far.

    As for an Internet station.. I guess it depends on your audience. Certainly an alternative radio station [edge102.com] would be a good fit, but if I wanted to appeal to toddlers, or retirees, or people in vehicles (like the airport radio stations), I'd be much better off broadcasting in the regular fashion.

  • by TheTomcat ( 53158 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2000 @08:48AM (#920420) Homepage
    Why fight for the right to buy expensive gear and to consume lots of electricity to broadcast over a small geographic area, when you could reach the whole world by setting up a station on the Internet?

    Until pretty much every car has internet connectivity, this won't work. At least here, people mostly listen to the radio only when driving. Some others listen to it at work. Most sysadmins don't exactly like somewhat bandwidth hungry audio broadcasts.

    Here, our radio stations are garbage, littered with Canadian Content enforced programming, playing pretty much the same content every day, and targeting a much-too-large demographic of teenagers right through to retired cottagers, but it's a little impossible to listen to a shoutcast/icecast in my car, right now, so I'll stick to my CD Changer and the Radio.
  • by awx ( 169546 )
    A coupla questions:
    1. Is this available in the UK? (most probably not...) and is there a hope for the future for anything like this?

    2. What about small *cheap* networks?
    Have your PC transmitting at, say 108Mhz, and the one at the other end transmitting at 108.5Mhz (or whatever). Listen to each other as well and you could *easily* link up via modem or ethernet (see that homemade 10ghz microwave project for details...)
    Longer distances = small repeater stations duplicating data onto a different frequency and so on...

    Go figure. Lucky US hackers...
    Alex
  • You probably have to transmit a voice.

    My radio station is likely to be transmitting "...on off on on off on off off off on on off on off off off on..."

  • How about this vision: Create a cooperative Internet radio station with programming designed and chosen via an open-source style project. With people distributed all over America, using low-power radio equipment and a high-speed net connection; re-broadcasting the Internet station all over. If you are driving down the road and where you may typically lose your favorite low-power station, you'll be picked up by another low-power station. Beautiful! Distributed radio!!
  • The gear is suprisingly inexpensive. I dont have the link at the moment as I am at work, but I had priced low-power FM equipment before, and the actual transmitting equipment is under US$1000. All you need in addition to that is a music source, say, two turntables and a microphone? (And a mixer, and so on)...
  • by crushinator ( 212593 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2000 @11:17AM (#920425)
    The much-talked-about digital divide would not affect would-be listeners of low-power FM stations. This is one of the most important implications of LPFM.

    A less priveliged community can fairly easily pull together the dough to get an LPFM station, base it at, for example, a local public school, and then provide a tremendous number of services to the local area. Not only programming that addresses the local communtiy's needs (rather than shrinkwrapped kool-kulture brought to you by 102.5 the BUZZ), but also on-the-job training for people interested in careers in broadcast media, and hands-on experience in positive, community-oriented programming for the students at the school.

    It also allows another way to inexpensively bring independant music (either local, national, or international) to the ears of people who want to hear it. This provides a real alternative to big radio's spoonfed programming, generally chosen by computers to suit a perceived demographic.

    And, most importantly, the bar to accessing the media is very low - a working radio can be had for less than $10. That's a lot less than a $1500-$3000 dollar computer, or even a cheapo iOpener that requires a monthly fee. Additionally, converting a LPFM station for internet simulcast is not hard to do, should the cost on internet access drop in the future.

    IMO, the more access people have to accessible media sources, the freer they will be.

    R. Reed Taylor
    General Manager '98-'99, WRCT Pittsburgh 88.3 FM [wrct.org]

  • by austad ( 22163 ) on Wednesday July 19, 2000 @11:21AM (#920426) Homepage
    Not so long ago, me and a friend had planned on "experimenting" with our own radio station. I found a place in the UK that sold 1 watt FM transmitters with digital tuning for around $100 USD. For another $100 or so you could get the stereo module for it, and somewhere there was a 10 watt booster for fairly cheap also.

    Ahh, just found it at http://www.broadcast-warehouse.com [broadcast-warehouse.com]. Buy the kits, they cost much less than the pre-assembled ones. If you can get your antenna high enough, you should be able to get about 7 miles out of 1 watt. 10 times the power would double your range. A 20 watt booster is 149UK.

    I'd still like to order one of these and play around with it.
  • What ever happened to the push for a radio network of internet hosts/servers? I remember reading about it in 2600 and even once heard that there were 3 or 4 nodes up...

    The idea was to create a home grown internet that was controlled by users and not just phone companies. (for example: the internet backbone) They were going to run packets through radio signals.

    Seems like this could restart that trend. It would be fun to set up a radio network between houses, and I can even see practical use in sending between small offices. Of course all of your normal cryptography would have to be in place...

    I also thought that the fcc put limits on how long you could transmit constant signal before you had to allow some dead air time. Perhaps not in this bandwidth?

    -pos


    The truth is more important than the facts.
  • Does anyone know what states this is availiable in? The Times article said California, something, and eight other states. Anyone have and idea which ones?
  • Sounds a lot like HAM Radio's Packet. :-)
  • by RGRistroph ( 86936 ) <rgristroph@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 19, 2000 @12:15PM (#920430) Homepage
    "The much-talked-about digital divide would not affect would-be listeners of low-power FM stations. This is one of the most important implications of LPFM."

    No. LPFM *is* the digital divide. Rich people get computers and the internet, so any person can publish to everyone. Poor people get LPFM, so only one person can publish at time, and then only to few thousand people.

    Think about what it is like to be poor: you get to turn on the radio and listen to commercial trash, or a stumbling, poorly produced local amateur. Rich: commercial trash, and any one of millions of stumbling, poorly produced global amateurs, one of whom might be cool if you can ever find him; once a month it is your turn to read the next weeks softball schedule over the air.

    "A less priveliged community can fairly easily pull together the dough to get an LPFM station, base it at, for example, a local public school, and then provide a tremendous number of services to the local area. Not only programming that addresses the local communtiy's needs (rather than shrinkwrapped kool-kulture brought to you by 102.5 the BUZZ), but also on-the-job training for people interested in careers in broadcast media, and hands-on experience in positive, community-oriented programming for the students at the school."

    A less privileged community can start a computer club and get the kids to write web pages. Or a ham radio club. Or after school sports, SAT tutorials, writing workshops. There is nothing particularly more enlightening or empowering about the microphone as opposed to the keyboard. The programming is about as likely to address the communities needs as your average community center web site -- i.e., it won't. Web site experience is more likely to get them a job than babbling about the latest softball game or rap CD in front of a thousand people.

    "It also allows another way to inexpensively bring independant music (either local, national, or international) to the ears of people who want to hear it. This provides a real alternative to big radio's spoonfed programming, generally chosen by computers to suit a perceived demographic."

    mp3 and Napster: I choose what I listen to.
    Any radio, low power or otherwise: Someone else chooses the music, and I turn it off.

    "And, most importantly, the bar to accessing the media is very low - a working radio can be had for less than $10. That's a lot less than a $1500-$3000 dollar computer, or even a cheapo iOpener that requires a monthly fee. Additionally, converting a LPFM station for internet simulcast is not hard to do, should the cost on internet access drop in the future."

    The point is not that the money to set up an LPFM is low. The point is that there are not enough stations on the dial so that every person can have a LPFM, but every person can have a computer and a web site. Focusing on the internet and computing we have some hope of achieving a fairer, more equal access society. LPFM just gives a smaller local model of the same society we have now.

    "IMO, the more access people have to accessible media sources, the freer they will be."

    That's what I'm saying. Why do you think replacing the tyranny of corporate boards with the tyranny of the neighborhood board will change anything ? Someone else still controls what you can publish.

    I'm not against LPFM; it definitely should be done, probably should have been done some time ago. But it isn't the wave of the future and it isn't going to save anyone from the ghetto who wasn't getting out already.

    The wave of the future is the internet. By publishing my thoughts on this web page, I am doing in a few minutes work what would have taken hundreds of medieval village monks years of re-copying and passing on parchment, or what would have taken dozens of 1776 Committees of Correspondance weeks of re-copying, printing, and horseback delivering pamphlets. This is the new efficiency that changes everything.

    LPFM is the equivalent of giving the medieval village a giant, huge, megaphone so the town retard, the town priest, and the town minstrel can take turns shouting at everyone in the whole valley. Since we used to have just a few megaphones for the whole nation, I guess you could call it an improvement.

    But I wouldn't get my heart rate up about it.
  • by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher@NOSPAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday July 19, 2000 @12:18PM (#920431) Homepage
    Why fight for the right to buy expensive gear and to consume lots of electricity to broadcast over a small geographic area, when you could reach the whole world by setting up a station on the Internet?"

    Because most people don't have internet connections with enough bandwidth to bother listening to online radio stations. Certainly not in cars. Certainly not outside while gardening or car washing. Because your local community is a lot smaller than the whole internet. Because everyone has radios, and every car has an FM receiver.

    Small stations don't suck lots of electricity. A station can be set up for a few thousand dollars, not much more than the price of a good computer and the cost of a reliable broadband internet connection.

    The upside of being a community broadcaster means you can sell advertising to local merchants. The small local merchants need to advertise to stay in business, and large national radio broadcasts are too expensive and cover too wide an audience.

    I used to help run a small pira^H^H^H^Hcommunity station. We used to sell an hour or four to a local shop, and the owner would give us their record collection to play during that time. Then all the shops in the area would tune in just to hear that program. It meant we were all over the board, from classical to polka to jazz. We offered our own programs like punk music (never heard on the BBC), new wave music, RPG discussions, and we sold local adverts to pay the electric bills. When we added an early morning farm report, we became the most listened to station in the area. The local school is still running that station, but its way too professional for me now :-)

    the AC
  • A community activist I know here is trying to use Lowpower FM to reach the local hispnic community. Most of which don't have a computer, can't afford a computer, don't speak english. The news they here on the radio now is corporate controlled and does not refelct there needs. Low power FM is a great resource for this community. They already have it up and running but the FCC made them shutdown until congress finishes debating it.

  • interestingly, as kids, trying to see if a cable signal originating from one node could reach another node, we hooked up a shortwave transmitter to a cable line, turned it to the lowest possible wattage. at another house, we had a dinky radioshack portable fm/am/sw receiver hooked up to the cable as well, we were surprised to find that the reception was crystal clear.

    we had a couple old bnc network cards (and connectors) that we had planned to try across the cable network... but we never got around to it... probably out of fear of frying several hundred televisions with the signal interference...
  • "Why fight for the right to buy expensive gear and to consume lots of electricity to broadcast over a small geographic area, when you could reach the whole world by setting up a station on the Internet?"

    How about inexpensive gear, moderate electrical consumption, and a small geographic area such as Manhattan or Beverly Hills, without the FCC expecting you to serve the public interest of *all* of New York City or Los Angeles? If the feds will let you support the station by selling ads, it could be a very profitable venture.

  • Well, you can broadcast a signal for a lot less than some of you people think - the hardware to take a stereo ouput to the air is under $65. Hook that up to a computer with WinAmp (or XMMS ;^) and you have yourself your own private station.
    One company offers kits for this stuff online, I have a few links:
    Ramsey Electronics [ramseyelectronics.com]
    a specific kit [ramseyelectronics.com]

    -Smitty
  • It costs about 260 US $ for a handheld (A HANDHELD!) amatuer radio transmitter capable of 5 watts! I can also throttle the rig down to half a watt and via repeaters, get 30 miles radius. Of course you have to be licensed, and you can't broadcast (2 way only, at least that's the way it' s supposed to be) and you can't play music. This is a DOABLE thing with a cheap transmitter and proper frequencies and possible licenses. Licenses would be necessary jusr to PREVENT the interference problem with the bigger stations. It's MORE likely that a nearby big radio station would interfere with the low powered station.

  • This page [fcc.gov] has a bunch of info on the subject. Relevent only to those in the US. This [fcc.gov] is on low power radio in general. Basically, pirate radio is still illegal. This [fcc.gov] is a site that talks about LPFM. It is available in Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Mariana Islands, Maryland, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah. This [fcc.gov] is a list of when other states come online.

    Unfortunately, when I checked a few months ago, it was still fairly difficult to get a license and do what you want with it. These LPFM stations are supposed to be public in nature. They can't be for profit (I know it's cheap, but electricity costs money). As others have stated, there isn't much bandwidth left in many parts of the country. If you want to play commercial music, you still have to pay those bastards. I imagine that many of the big broadcasters have tried to suck up the available channels.

    The other problem that I haven't seen mentioned is that the big stations frequently trample on the spectrum of the smaller ones. The father of a friend of mine ran a small station. He was constantly in court against one of the larger stations. There was too much frequency bleed into his area. But the fees imposed by the FCC were far lower than the increase in revenue the large station received by having a larger broadcast area. So they paid the lawyers for a little while, then paid the fine, and did it all over again.

    Hope some of these links help.

  • What about voice with sub-audible data? I'm sure you can transmit data with subaudible tones. That would allow you to do both on the same freq.

  • The Low Power initiative, great, idea, right? Well, my friends and I were running a semi-legit radio station with about 3k watts, and it was a nice, professional little setup (my friend has been a radio engineer for 15 years or so).
    Well, the fuzz came and finally shut us down, so we decided to look into a low power license, and ya know what? all the local allocations had been bought up by one Calvary Chapel. Which would be fine, except for a little clause in the Low Power initiative stating that no company with any other broadcasting concerns could be allowed to license the low power allocations. Calvary Chapel has cable, radio, even a satellite station.
    So in other words, they've gone and perverted the entire point of LPFM. Yet another kick in the nuts for the little guy. yay.



    Do any /actual/scientists work here, or is it just one long game of truth or dare?
  • The print version of Wired had a great article on LPFM and its issues. Eitherway as I understand it, non-commerical LPFM is perfectly legal. But therein lies the biggest problem - even LPFM costs a bit of cash to run, and simply putting any advertisement on that frequency cancles that protected non-commercial LPFM status. The radio media industry is getting more and more closed to anything new. Big media companies are buying radio stations left and right, and it only contributes to the motonony that is FM radio today. I guess here in denver we have it pretty good - there is quite a variety of stations. But it's interesting. All of the city-of-denver based stations are owned by big companies and have lame content. The stations that are a ways away but have decent transmitters (KTCL, KILO are the main examples, one in ft. collins, one in pueblo) have some of the most interesting, origional and sometimes contrivercial content. I love it. Where i live in denver I get KTCL clearly (except in this one valley just south of me) and KILO clearly until i get a few miles north.
  • That's definately reasonable... You could probably go well below $1000... Hell, someone with decent amounts of electronics experience could build it themselves.

    Considering that 50-100 watt 150 MHz business-band radios go for under $50 on the surplus market nowadays (Well, that market has dried up over the years...), a low-power transmitter in the 100-watt range could probably be bought for well under $500. (Brand new 144 MHx (aka 2 meter) ham mobiles can be had in the $200-400 range, and these are FAR more complex than a basic FM transmitter would be.)
  • "A less privileged community can start a computer club and get the kids to write web pages. Or a ham radio club."

    And where will the members of the community get the money to buy computers to view the web pages that the computer club created?

    "The point is not that the money to set up an LPFM is low. The point is that there are not enough stations on the dial so that every person can have a LPFM, but every person can have a computer and a web site.

    You have missed my point entirely. I was not talking about set-up costs, I was talking about access costs. There's no benefit to setting up a comunity-oriented web page if nobody from the community can view it, even if millions of outsiders can.

    We're not talking about LPFM versus the internet, we're talking about LPFM versus no LPFM. Given that, I'm sure we both agree. In my initial post I was trying to remind people of this (i.e., the issue at hand having nothing to do with the internet-as-panacaea), but my point was lost.

    You dwell on how the internet is better at doing the things I propose than LPFM is. Frankly, I agree. But I also think that the day when, in your words, "every person can have a computer and a web site" is a LONG ways off. I can't predict the future, but I'd say at least a decade. And I think that's very optimistic.

    I love the internet. I use it all the time. I think it kicks the pants right off of all the other media in terms of its current and potential effects on society. But there are a few crucial differences between the internet and LPFM. Among others:

    • The financial bar to accessing the internet in the home is extremely high. The financial bar to accessing FM airwaves (as a recipient) is practically zero.
    • Nobody is deciding right now whether or not the internet should be allowed to exist. LPFM is go or no-go based on the decisions to be made in the coming months.
    I'm not arguing that the microphone is better than the keyboard, and I'm definitely not saying that there are more jobs in broadcasting than there are in computers. But lets not get internet tunnel-vision just yet. Just because it's the wave of the future (and I agree that it is) doesn't mean that everything that doesn't incorporate it is unexciting. Folks who can't get at that great new technology will be better off for having LPFM in the meantime.
  • Why not distribute between the radios themselves? Every radio can recieve the signal as well as re-broadcast it.

    Better yet allow all internet traffic to be sent via these devices. Why can't all wireless internet devices communicate with each other creating thier own network. The devices could route each other's data until a device is close enough to communicate with an internet node. Every cell phone, radio, and anything else that uses radio frequencies to communicate could use this protocol to exchange thier info rather then the methods used today.

    If a device is too far away to reach an internet node it'll just find the next closest device on this wireless network and that device will route the data on to the next device until finally the internet is reached. This could be a quick way to roll out wireless internet. I know there would be some problems with this design, but with all the smart minds out there I'm sure someone could come up with solutions to the obvious (and not so obvious) problems!
  • Who made it and where can it be bought???

    I'm looking for one of these to combine with an MPTrip, the only one I can find is $40 from Rat Shack. :(

    I'd email, except you didn't log in. I'll probably never get a reply...

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