You probably aren't aware that it's coming, and it's almost certain you've not heard about it via your local commercial radio or TV station. But a revolution is coming to American airwaves over the next three years: in the form of a new wave of Low Power FM ("LPFM") radio stations.
Created in the wake of commercial radio's deregulation in the 1980's, LPFM was devised by the Federal Communications Commission as a means of restoring locally based, community oriented programming content to to the dial, giving non-profit groups the opportunity to operate non-commercial stations. With a maximum power output of just 100 watts, most LPFM signals reach roughly 5 miles in any given direction, depending on local terrain. Consequently, their focus tends to be hyper-local: emphasizing information and news local to the communities they serve, with local personalities, even in some cases playing music from local bands, setting themselves apart from their commercial brethren.
While the initial wave of LPFM stations was small in size and confined mostly to rural areas due to FCC technical restrictions, in 2010 Congress relaxed some of the more onerous requirements in an effort to expand LPFM's reach. As a result, last October nearly 3,000 non-profit groups nationwide filed applications for new stations, including many in large cities where LPFM previously hadn't been possible.
One such example where this will be felt is the area surrounding Raleigh, North Carolina. Its one existing LPFM station, which can be heard in the northeastern portion of the city, will likely be joined by seven others over the next three years. Going from one end of the dial to the other (at 90.1, 93.5, 95.7, 96.5, 101.9, 103.3, 106.5 and 107.9 MHz, respectively), these stations will likely provide a vast array of locally oriented programming which you likely won't find on their commercial counterparts, each reaching out to a significant portion of the area's half million-plus residents.
Construction permits for LPFM began being issued in mid-January, giving their recipients up to three years to go on the air. So if the sounds you're hearing on your FM dial bore you in 2014, don't worry. If you live in an area where LPFM is about to grow, come 2017 they're going to sound dramatically different.