Auction 109 Noncommercial "Longshot" Opportunity


Filing Window:
Short forms to participate in Auction 109.  This document addresses what we call the “longshot” opportunity to obtain a noncommercial allotment without having to pay filing or auction fees.   (NOTE: “Longshot” is our term.. no one at the FCC will know this word for this purpose...)

Window dates:
Short forms (Form 175) will be filed between April 28, 2021 ~ May 11, 2021.

Potential availability:
This window is for specific FM and AM allotments.  No other locations can be added.  A list of allotments can be found in Attachment A of the FCC Public Notice.

Basic details:
This window is for the filing of Form 175, known as the “short form”, which is normally used to participate in an auction.  On the Form 175, applicants can specify which auctions/allotments they are interested in. 

The NCE “Longshot” opportunity:
During this window, applicants can designate their applications as “noncommercial”.  If they do that, then their application would not be subject to filing fees or the auction.  HOWEVER!!!!  If any entity files a Form 175 for the same allotment as a “commercial” applicant (meaning they are willing to pay to participate), then the noncommercial applications will be DISMISSED and will not be able to participate any further.  We call this a “longshot” because it would depend on someone else not wanting to even consider bidding on the allotment.  You probably have less than a 1% chance of getting this through the door, but if you are a risk taker (remember, you are not paying anything), this may be a good chance to get an allotment if you are in an area where that allotment would work for you.  

For information on commercial applicants as well as noncommercial applicants that want to compete against the commercial applicants, and will have to make an upfront payment and bid in the auction, read our main Auction 109 Window Document.

Commercial and noncommercial applicants will need to obtain a FCC Registration Number (FRN) if they don't have one already.  The FRN must be in the name of the entity that is applying.  These can be applied for online and must represent the organization.  If your organization or company has an EIN issued by the IRS, please have that ready.  Individuals will need to use their social security number when signing up for an FRN.

Current LPFM licensees:
LPFM station licensees can participate subject to the same caveats above.  LPFM applicants must disclose on their long form applications that they are currently the licensee of an LPFM station and that they pledge to divest their LPFM station (by assigning the license to another nonprofit organization or surrendering the LPFM license to the FCC) prior to the full-power FM station going on the air.

Service technical details:
Once the longshot applicant is designated the selectee, they can specify a transmitter site.  Even if the station is licensed to a noncommercial organization, the commercial FM rules apply to the location of the station.  The facility proposed must meet distance separation requirements and place a 70 dBu F(50, 50) contour over a significant portion fo the designated community of license.  Applicants may change the class of service as long as the minimum and maximum faciity requirements are met and as long as the 70 dBu community coverage is met.  For the community of license to be changed, it is a very complex process.

Full service FM stations protect other FM stations using distane separation on co-, first-, second- and third-adjacent channels as well as intermediate frequency (+ 10.6 and 10.8 MHz). 

Full service FM stations located near the international border must provide protection to foreign stations in accordance with the appropriate international agreements.

Full service FM stations are not required to protect existing LPFM stations and FM translator stations.  Full service FM is a primary service and therefore has the rights to displace LPFM and translator stations. 

Site assurance:
Normally in the commercial band, there is no site assurance requirement in the commercial service, however, since there was no auction.  Please be prepared to demonstrate site assurance if requested.

Directional antennas:
FM stations on commercial allotments that are short-spaced to other domestic commercial stations but meet a specific shorter distance may request to use a directional antenna and handling under §73.215 of the rules.  

Directional antennas must meet the minimum requirement of (1) not having a difference of 2 dB per 10 degrees and in no case shall the antenna radiate at 15 dB under the highest power on the antenna.  This means that many directional antennas commonly used by FM translators can’t be used by full-service FM stations.  Directional antenna installations must be verified by a proof of performance from the manufacturer and a verification statement from a licensed surveyor that the antenna was constructed per the FCC authorization.

Community coverage requirements:
The proposed facility must place significant coverage (80% of the population) of the corporate limits of the community of license.  The 70 dBu F(50, 50) contour is used to determine community coverage.

Competing applications (MX):
If only one noncommercial applicant files for that allotment and no commercial applicants file, then the noncommercial applicant will be awarded the construction permit.

If more than one noncommercial applicant files for the allotment and there are no commercial applicants, there will be a point system process.  This is an extremely rare scenario.

Nature of broadcast service
If the FM station is licensed as a noncommercial educational station (NCE), commercials are prohibited.  NCE stations may acknowledge “underwriters”, those who give money to the station.  Underwriting acknowledgements can include identifying information such as name, address, phone number, website and even a brief description of the business.  The announcements may not “promote” the business or a certain aspect of the business.  There are strict controls on the language that can be used on the air to make these acknowledgements.  These messages should be made with a station’s voice and not the voice of the underwriter.  VIOLATIONS OF THE RULES REGARDING COMMERCIALS ON NCE STATIONS CAN LEAD TO FINES IN THE TENS-OF-THOUSANDS. 

Educational Statement
Organizations eligible to try the “longshot” option can only be licensed to educational organizations to advance an educational purpose. New licensees must demonstrate that they are truly educational organizations.  This does not mean that the organization must have classrooms.  Applicants need to provide descriptions of the nature of its proposed station programming, and if possible, program schedules.  The LPFM applicant should also demonstrate how the proposed station programming will be used to advance its educational purpose.

Parties to the application
For noncommercial applicants, the parties to the application will be the board members of the corporation.  Individuals, general partnerships, LLCs or any other for-profit corporation would not qualify as a NCE licensee.

No party to the application may serve on the board of any LPFM station (unless the organization applying is the LPFM organization and they pledge to divest their LPFM station before taking the station on the air.

Responsibilities of licensee
Once a facility is completely constructed, the application for license is filed.  Once granted, the facility is fully licensed.  Broadcast licenses are issued for 8-year terms however the original license will be issued for the period of time from when the license is granted until the date when all radio broadcast licenses for that state expire.  The renewal process is fairly easy. 

Full-service FM licensees are also required to maintain an online public inspection file and must add information once every quarter to outline the various local issues that were addressed by the station.  Other information such as joint sales agreements, politcal file, among others, must also be maintained.  Once every two years and following certain triggering events, NCE licensees must file an ownership report that outlines the current make-up of the board of directors.  

Full-service FM applicants and licensees are required to file ownership reports.  Biennial (i.e. every two years) ownership reports are due on December 1 of all even-numbered years (for commercial) or odd-numbered years (for noncommercial).  Ownership reports are also filed within 30 days of the grant of an original construction permit, within 30 days of consummating an assignment of license (transferring the station to a different nonprofit organization) or transfer of control (more than 50% change in parties within the same organizations).  Ownership reports may also need to be filed when applying for a station license (after construction) when circumstances have changed since the filing of the last ownership report.

Full-service FM licensees are not required to have a physical main studio that is accessible to the public but must maintain a local or toll free telephone number which can be accessed by the general public during normal business hours.

Public notice
An applicant for an original construction permit will be required to give public notice of their filing.  There will be specific wording for this announcement within the FCC rules.  The public notice can be placed on a website that is operated by the organization applying for the construction permit.  The notice must run on the website for at least 30 days following the time when the original construction permit application has been accepted for filing by the FCC.  Organizations without websites would be required to list their notice on a website for their community such as a local newspaper website, city government website (if they will even allow such listings) or through the state's broadcasters association.

Building and operating a radio station is not cheap.  In FM full-service, you can use newer or older transmitting equipment.  Older transmitters may not have the failsafe modes in them to detect out-of-tolerance situations and immediately take action. They will require more TLC by a qualified engineer who can watch over the operation.  Using older transmitters out of tolerance can lead to notices of violation and possible fines.    Depending on your station’s output power, expect to spend from $3000 to over $30,000 for a transmitter.  Your antenna size and cost will also depend on how much power you are running.  Simple non-directional antennas at lower power (250 watts or less) may cost around $700 to start.   Higher power may mean more “bays” and that will lead to higher costs.  Directional antennas (when needed under §73.215), especially those with a custom design can get very expensive.  Expect to pay into the 5 figures. 

All broadcast stations are required to be equipped with an emergency alert system (EAS) encoder/decoder.  Expect to pay at least $3,500 for this piece of equipment.  In addition, software updates that keep up with changes made by the federal government may lead to additional charges once every few years.

Broadcast stations that carry copyrighted music over the air must pay annual royalty fees to up to three performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC).  Their rates are set by a federal copyright royalty board.  For commercial, rates are based on station revenue and other factors. For noncommercial, rates vary based on whether the station is music centric (more than 20% music) or talk centric (more than 20% talk).   Depending on the station’s population served, the total annual royalties can run from about $1,600 to as much as about $17,000.  Stations that decide to “stream” their audio over the internet are even higher and also include other organizations (SoundExchange).  Radio stations licensed to accredited schools may be able to get lower rates.  Royalty rates increase every year.

When determining the costs of running a radio station, you also need to take into consideration the day to day costs including power, other infrastructure as well as any applicable property taxes and upkeep on the equipment. 

For noncommercial educational broadcast applicants and licensees, the FCC (federal government) does not charge any application or regulatory fees.

Because of the uncertainty of success with the “Longshot” method, REC is not providing any paid services to support this option.  If you need help with preparing or filing a Form 175, please let us know.  We can help you under our “advice is free... but if you feel it’s worth more, feel free to donate’ policy.