The FCC's low power FM policy: Station personnel's interpretation of policy objectives and its impact on implementation.

Open Access
Chatterjee, Nivedita
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 27, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Krishna Prasad Jayakar, Dissertation Advisor
  • Amit Schejter, Committee Chair
  • Richard Denny Taylor, Committee Member
  • Marylee Carmel Taylor, Special Member
  • LPFMs
  • media policy evaluation
  • low power radio
Social policies are means by which the government ensures every member of the community certain minimum standards of living and a degree of equality in opportunities for pursuing important life goals. However, social policies are only effective if the problems are clearly defined. Evaluation of policy implementation is an important stage of the policy process because it helps in measuring the outcomes of the policy and comparing them to policy objectives. Evaluation helps in modifying implementation of ongoing policies so that they are more successful in achieving their objectives or, in case a program that have already reached its’ termination, add to the public policy knowledge base. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) initiated the Low Power FM (LPFM) service in 2000 in an attempt to increase diversity and localism in the public platform. The policy launched two non-commercial services - LP10 and LP100. These low powered stations were expected to satisfy highly local interests that were not being fulfilled by the full power commercial and non-commercial radio stations. It was a means for small local community based organizations to communicate over the airwaves, encourage diverse voices and help linguistic and cultural minorities or groups with shared civic or educational interests. It has been thirteen years since its inception and the time has come to examine if the LPFM policy is making progress in its agenda to introduce more localism and diversity in the media. In this study, three types of LPFMs – general interest, religious and minority – have been compared to understand how these LPFMs interpret the goals of the policy and if they actively work toward achieving them. Both minority and general interest LPFMs were selected because they represented the objectives of diversity and localism in LPFM policy. Religious LPFMs were selected not only because religious organizations have carved a niche for themselves in the LPFM community, but also because their presence has been felt and debated frequently by media scholars. As part of this research, FCC’s documents were studied to better understand the LPFM policy objectives in order to compare them with the goals set by LPFM licensees for their radio stations. Interviews were conducted with LPFM personnel to explore how the minority, general interest and religious communities’ stations described and included their community in operations of and content creation for their radio station, whether they used the resource to provide content different from the mainstream media, and whether they have succeeded in fulfilling their community’s information needs and have become media hubs for their communities. As a source of additional information, the available websites of LPFMs included in the study were examined to understand how they addressed their audience, and if their programs catered to only the entertainment needs of their community or were they providing information too, as well as how far LPFMs were involved with their communities. Analysis of all the documents collected revealed that the three different types of LPFMs are using their low power radio stations differently. While religious LPFMs concentrate only on spiritual development of its listeners, general interest LPFMs either provide entertainment or are very involved with spreading social awareness on health, finance and politics. In case of minority LPFMs, some differences were observed between minority religious LPFMs – religious LPFMs that either catered to a minority community or were owned by a minority community, and non-religious minority LPFMs. While the non-religious minority LPFMs played a very important role in the community providing employment, health, religious information along with legal advice and news, the religious minority LPFMs focused on spiritual development and to a lesser degree, on education, health and family. However, unlike religious LPFMs, minority religious LPFMs were more socially aware, and more connected with their community, some of them even advertising community projects. Hence, although they were focused on religion, they also had programs about employment, health, finance, and family relationships. The study concluded that minority LPFMs were most successful in providing for their community’s needs while some general interest LPFMs, were relevant for their community. Religious LPFMs, however, displayed a disinterest in using their LPFMs to their full potential and were satisfied to provide gospel and religious teachings. The study concluded that although LPFM policy has a lot of potential, the FCC needs to better define its goals and objectives, and put in place guidelines and parameters to help LPFMs licensees provide the service that FCC envisioned from its LPFM policy.