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Old 03-29-2019, 02:19 PM
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Approximately How Much Does It Cost To Run A Radio Station If You Cut Every Corner?


In this thread, we're talking about weird radio stations, including some that couldn't possibly make any money (no commercials, no requests for donations).

The cost of licensing the song rights seems to be trivial, on the order of a few hundred bucks per year. Best I can figure from my limited Google Fu, ASCAP considers radio a "public performance," and the fee for a public performance license seems to be about $356 if I'm reading this correctly. I couldn't get actual numbers from either ASCAP or BMI, inasmuch as they both want me to create an account, and no.

Many (most) of the stations mentioned in the thread don't have on-air talent, cutting costs considerably. That leaves electricity, which I couldn't even begin to compute, and FCC licensing, which like performance licensing, seems to be on the order of a few hundred bucks.

As for equipment, consumer-grade FM transmitters can be purchased for a few hundred bucks on up to a few grand, although how that translates to broadcasting over a major metropolitan area I couldn't begin to say. I imagine those thousand-foot-high broadcasting towers are there for a reason, and they can't be cheap to build. Of course, if a radio station goes defunct and the owner wants to get rid of it for a song (no pun intended), I imagine a hobbyist could buy the station with minimal start-up costs.

What's the Straight Dope?

Last edited by HeyHomie; 03-29-2019 at 02:19 PM.
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Old 03-29-2019, 02:37 PM
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Here is a site with lots of information:
https://www.hobbybroadcaster.net/

A brief wikihow:
https://www.wikihow.com/Start-a-Low-...-Radio-Station
Note:
Quote:
Acquire a Part 15 Transmitter. Search through the internet for a professional grade, low powered FM transmitter. There are several options available that are all verified by the FCC. You can spend a small amount of money ($80), or spend a larger sum of around $300.[7]
Or do a Google search for
Part 15 radio broadcasting

Of course an internet only radio station is an alternative.
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Old 03-29-2019, 02:49 PM
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My dad was the general manager of a radio station. Yes, the towers and hardcore broadcasting equipment are required if you intend to reach any sort of an audience to speak of. I don't know how much those would cost, although you can obviously reach more people with less money in a tightly packed urban area. This website says as little $15K initially and $1000 a month. I imagine that's not going to have the same kind of oomph as your local top 40 radio station.

https://www.prometheusradio.org/startup_costs

Fun fact, I worked at a station as a teen during the overnight shift. At night everybody would leave, I'd come in, and it would shift to a nationally syndicated broadcast using a pre-recorded local callsign after every music/commercial segment done by whichever personality was on. Even then it was largely automated (late 80's) and my main job was making sure the commercials played properly. And fielding calls from drunk people thinking the DJs were actually there.

I imagine if you're not doing any advertising (a HUGE part of radio), that you could reach a bigger audience, cheaper, through a podcast. And you won't be restricted to a localized area.

Last edited by Ashtura; 03-29-2019 at 02:50 PM.
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Old 03-29-2019, 02:51 PM
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My understanding, from earlier threads on the topic on this board, is that the big issue is getting a license.

The FCC offers "low power FM (LPFM)" licenses, but private individuals and "commercial entities" aren't eligible for them.

I'm not an expert in the field, but regular licenses sound like they're both (a) potentially very expensive, and (b) difficult to obtain.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 03-29-2019 at 02:53 PM.
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Old 03-29-2019, 04:06 PM
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Didn't drive-in theaters play the movie audio over the air? Those seem like fairly low budget operations.
I've always wondered about licensing and equipment for those road signs that say 'Tune to 1640 AM for traffic info.'
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Old 03-29-2019, 04:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jnglmassiv View Post
Didn't drive-in theaters play the movie audio over the air? Those seem like fairly low budget operations.
The FCC allows you to transmit on the AM band (535 to 1705 kHz) and FM band (88 to 108 MHz) without a license as long as your transmitter is so low in power that it has an effective range of approximately 200 feet max.

Drive-in theaters in the old days always had speakers. You pulled up next to a speaker stand and put the speaker on your car door so that you could hear it inside the car. Drive-ins have all but disappeared at this point, but towards the end, many (most?) of them switched to low-power AM/FM broadcasting. Those that needed more than a 200 foot range usually had a license, though if you are willing to shell out the cash for the extra equipment, I suppose you could get by with multiple 200 foot-range transmitters and no license. I suspect the license is the cheaper route.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jnglmassiv View Post
I've always wondered about licensing and equipment for those road signs that say 'Tune to 1640 AM for traffic info.'
Those systems require a license, and the FCC has specific rules for them (10 watts max transmitting power, some limitations on the size of the antenna, etc). They are also only for use by government entities. Private individuals can't purchase a license for one of these systems.
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Old 03-29-2019, 04:24 PM
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The "stations" that broadcast over a very small area (e.g., within a building and its immediate environs are called microbroadcasters. The power limits are very low in order to avoid going thru normal FCC licensing. Think milliwatts.

I remember a how-to on setting one of these up in Popular Electronics in the 60s. It was powered by a 9 volt battery.

You can go a little higher if you are a school. So they were popular on small college campuses and such. It was sometimes step one on the way to becoming a licensed low power broadcaster.
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Old 03-30-2019, 09:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Ashtura View Post
...
Fun fact, I worked at a station as a teen during the overnight shift. At night everybody would leave, I'd come in, and ...
For some reason, this brings to mind Garison Keiler's "How I Got Into Radio" story.
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Old 03-31-2019, 12:53 AM
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Originally Posted by engineer_comp_geek View Post
The FCC allows you to transmit on the AM band (535 to 1705 kHz) and FM band (88 to 108 MHz) without a license as long as your transmitter is so low in power that it has an effective range of approximately 200 feet max.

Drive-in theaters in the old days always had speakers. You pulled up next to a speaker stand and put the speaker on your car door so that you could hear it inside the car. Drive-ins have all but disappeared at this point, but towards the end, many (most?) of them switched to low-power AM/FM broadcasting. Those that needed more than a 200 foot range usually had a license, though if you are willing to shell out the cash for the extra equipment, I suppose you could get by with multiple 200 foot-range transmitters and no license. I suspect the license is the cheaper route.



Those systems require a license, and the FCC has specific rules for them (10 watts max transmitting power, some limitations on the size of the antenna, etc). They are also only for use by government entities. Private individuals can't purchase a license for one of these systems.
I used to live near a drive-in theater and did rely on FM broadcasting for movie audio and for a several mile radius surrounding the theater you could indeed tune into that signal and listen to the movie quite clearly while driving around outside the theater.
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Old 03-31-2019, 01:35 AM
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The OP is not asking about starting a station, but just keeping one going.

As mentioned in the thread which inspired this one, sometimes an owner doesn't want to actually use the station itself as a commercial enterprise, but is just holding on to it (and the license attached to it), to sell for profit. The cost of the license isn't much, but it's difficult to apply for and receive a new one. I don't really know the regulations, but I'm assuming that you have to keep the station operating to hold onto the license, and when you sell a station, the new owner doesn't have to apply for a new one.

So apparently, some of the stations in the other thread had no ads at all and random or off-the-wall formats and content because they were just trying to keep operating, playing anything, at the lowest cost.

So the OP needs to specify, (and as Ashtura mentions): Is this for a commercially operating station, or one that is just operating, with no income?

Last edited by guizot; 03-31-2019 at 01:36 AM.
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Old 03-31-2019, 08:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guizot View Post

So the OP needs to specify, (and as Ashtura mentions): Is this for a commercially operating station, or one that is just operating, with no income?

Operating.
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Old 03-31-2019, 10:24 AM
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At Burning Man there is one official low power station, BMIR, apparently technically violating FCC rules.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiki
Although the station violates federal regulations related to pirate radio and licensing radio stations not in jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, BMIR is a required aspect of the event special use permit (SRP). Other licensed radio stations do exist that are within broadcast range of the Burning Man event however the event depends upon its self operated pirate radio station. During the period of the Burning Man Festival appears to remain operational and no enforcement action has been successful by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to shut the station down.
I have picked it up as far as eight miles from the tower which, with a little luck, seems to follow the regs for the LPFM licenses in kenobi's link above.

In addition there are about a half-dozen other stations that come and go. One of the most persistent and one I am familiar with (being based in Arizona) is Radio Electra. They mention part 15 of FCC regs but since those deal mainly with non-intentional transmissions (like your computer) or low power intermittent transmissions (like your garage door opener) I'm not sure about the relevance.
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Old 03-31-2019, 10:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guizot View Post
The OP is not asking about starting a station, but just keeping one going.
I see now that the OP has clarified this, as per your prompting; the original post muddied the waters by mentioning FCC licensing, and buying a transmitter, among the costs that they were trying to understand.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 03-31-2019 at 10:51 AM.
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Old 03-31-2019, 11:13 AM
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Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
I see now that the OP has clarified this, as per your prompting; the original post muddied the waters by mentioning FCC licensing, and buying a transmitter, among the costs that they were trying to understand.
I figured FCC licensing was yearly, sorry I wasn't clear.
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Old 03-31-2019, 12:52 PM
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We have a non profit FM station where the original transmitter was hand built by the chief engineer in the 70s. They had very little money so that was one way they cut a big corner. The FCC had never heard of anyone building their own transmitter so they had to make a special way to approve it.

this is the station https://theclassicalstation.org/
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Old 03-31-2019, 03:09 PM
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Originally Posted by DesertDog View Post
In addition there are about a half-dozen other stations that come and go. One of the most persistent and one I am familiar with (being based in Arizona) is Radio Electra. They mention part 15 of FCC regs but since those deal mainly with non-intentional transmissions (like your computer) or low power intermittent transmissions (like your garage door opener) I'm not sure about the relevance.
There's a subsection dealing with microbroadcasting.
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Old 03-31-2019, 08:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
We have a non profit FM station where the original transmitter was hand built by the chief engineer in the 70s. They had very little money so that was one way they cut a big corner. The FCC had never heard of anyone building their own transmitter so they had to make a special way to approve it.

this is the station https://theclassicalstation.org/
Oddly enough, I too worked at a radio station where the chief engineer hand built a transmitter. It was good enough to land him a job at Harris (I think) where his first role was as part of a team commercializing his design. Our station then was gifted the 1st example of that commercial transmitter once they were done showing it around at trade shows or whatever. Different station though.
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Old 04-01-2019, 07:58 AM
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
There's a subsection dealing with microbroadcasting.
Thank you, ftg. I'd done a quick scan of the regs but not deep enough.

The power limits seem a bit low, though. BRC is about 6 miles in diameter and the 'pirate' stations reach all of it with no issues. Despite the FM walkies the staff use being 5 watts, a relay is used to ensure reliable city-wide coverage. Is it perhaps they are digital?

Last edited by DesertDog; 04-01-2019 at 08:00 AM.
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Old 04-01-2019, 04:30 PM
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The power limits seem a bit low, though. BRC is about 6 miles in diameter and the 'pirate' stations reach all of it with no issues. Despite the FM walkies the staff use being 5 watts, a relay is used to ensure reliable city-wide coverage. Is it perhaps they are digital?
Digital hurts rather than helps transmission distance.

A couple possibilities:

1. They are cheating and aren't really very low power.

2. They are stringing up long wires all over the place which carry the signal around. So if you're close to one of those, you're good. Some microbroadcasters put their signal on powerlines to extend coverage. But stuff like transformers block it so it doesn't go terribly far.

Note that having a really high antenna here hurts rather than helps. It reduces the strength at the scale of a city block since the distance is greater. Height helps to get around hills and the curvature of the Earth.

Ground transmission on a wet site can help for a stronger signal. But I don't think BM is all that wet.

I'm guessing you don't see a bunch of wires all over. So ...
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Old 04-02-2019, 10:48 AM
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Ah. By digital I meant the walkies; the pirates have to be analog so ordinary receivers can pick 'em up. BMIR's ground plane is about 15 feet up with the antenna another 20 or so above that.
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Old 04-02-2019, 02:22 PM
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I don't know if this will help, but I can tell you that before my 911 center switched to a County run radio system, we had 7 transmitters that were each 100 watts a piece. They were all in one building/shed that had a separate electric meter. This meter powered the transmitters, Climate control and some lighting. That bill ran between $700 & $800 a month. Climate control was minimal and there was only one outside light that ran at night, the rest were on motion sensors while you were inside, which wasn't very often. I only mention it so you can take into consideration utility costs in your figures.
We also had back up transmitters in other buildings, but they were rented spaces, so I never got a utility bill for them.
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