Chasing Low-Power FM Stations

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Male voice, singing: You’re the reason I have bald tires on my car . . .

Female voice, singing: You’re the reason I threw your clothes out in the yard . . .

Male and female voices singing in harmony: You’re the reason our kids are ugly . . .

. . . and that was my introduction to WOOG low-power community radio in Troy, NY.

Holy smokes . . . that’s outrageous . . . and funny, too!

Sometimes, in hindsight, it can be difficult for a writer to determine when and where  story actually began.

With this one, was it when the FCC began licensing low-power community radio stations in 2000? Or was it when I began hosting a Radio Monitoring Net on the local 146.94 repeater (Troy, NY) at 7 pm on Tuesday nights?

For sure, a tipping point was when one of the net participants suggested check out a low-power FM community radio station on 92.7 FM. It’s kind of like western swing, he said.

I did check it out and found it to be a combo of traditional country and what I call “hillbilly jazz.” No announcer between musical selections, and occasional station IDs. At 7 am, I heard the Ralph Nader radio hour. Allegedly it is licensed to the Oakwood Community Center in Troy, NY, but nothing on the air that I have heard suggests that connection. Very curious. Is a place-holder for something else?

It turns out there are hundreds of low-power community radio stations across the United States. They are limited to 100 watts and an antenna height of 30 meters (100 feet). According to the FCC:

To qualify for an LPFM license, you must be:

  • A government or non-profit educational institution, like a public or private school or state or private university
  • A non-profit organization, association or entity with an educational purpose, like a community group, public service or public health organization, disability service provider or faith-based organization
  • A government or non-profit entity providing local public safety or transportation service, like a volunteer fire department, local government or state transportation authority
  • An Indian or Alaska Native tribe, band, nation, pueblo, village or community that will provide non-commercial radio services.

In addition, applicants for LPFM licenses must be based in the community in which they intend to broadcast. An organization is considered community-based if:

  • It is physically headquartered or has a campus within 10 miles of the proposed transmitting antenna
  • Seventy-five percent of its governing board resides within 10 miles of the proposed transmitting antenna
  • It is a non-profit or governmental public safety organization that intends to broadcast within the area of its jurisdiction
  • In the case of a Tribal application, the applicant’s Tribal lands are within the service area of the proposed station.

There is an article about LPFM stations here: and a listing of the stations here:

There are several LPFM stations in my area, and chasing them is fun. I found the best success with my Tecsun PL-880 and its long whip antenna. Sometimes the whip works best when held vertically; sometimes, horizontally; sometimes moving the whip horizontally as little as 45 degrees will blank one station and bring up another. The end effect is to look like a drunken sword master while getting into the Better Half’s potted plants, knocking over scanners on the desk, and other encounters with the long whip.

Nevertheless, chasing low power community radio stations is fun, and I can predict, with some authority, that you may encounter programming that you won’t find anywhere else.

Spread the radio love

27 thoughts on “Chasing Low-Power FM Stations

  1. Andrew (grayhat)

    Hi Jock, I replied to your antenna inquiry on the SWLing post forum, but maybe you missed it ?

    the antenna suggested is pretty small (for VHF) and if built using telescoping elements can easily be folded and carried around, if you add to that a gain around 10.8dBi and a front/back ratio of around 19dB, I think it may be worth a thought 😀

  2. Hank

    The Sangean PR-D4W seems to be way above average on the FM band, and has uncommon FM bandwidth filter selections.

    The weather band sensitivity of the PR-D4W is the best I have ever witnessed.

    I do not like the “block shape” of the ferrite AM antenna in the PR-D4W. Maybe that block shape ferrite helps the SiLabs chip self tune quickly? The “end null” is not sharp and does not allow the radio to be aimed to deeply silence an AM station so that another co-channel station can be heard.

    The UP/DOWN tuning buttons on the PR-D4W will trigger erroneous band changes if pressed to rapidly.

  3. Hank

    Years ago at work I was asked if we should scrap a big coil of large diameter solid copper enamel insulated magnet wire “because it is too big a diameter to use in any DC armature we are ever likely to repair.”

    I said no, I have a use for it., at least temporarily before it goes in the copper scrap barrel.
    I was living in a house that butted up to a forest, so I laid out a 300 foot long Beverage antenna that I intended to use for shortwave.

    The scrap wire Beverage worked good on SW.
    One day I switched the radio to the FM band and began dialing across the FM band before I switched antennas. A strong FM signal “popped up” where nothing had been before. I stopped to listen to ID it. It was a LPFM station.

    When I looked on a highway road map from curiosity it was 70 miles away, but again by chance, EXACTLY aligned with my thrown together Beverage direction. Beverages are supposed to work better as they lengthen to more wavelengths of the frequency, and this was many wavelengths.

    When I moved I bought a plastic reel meant for 120 volt AC extension cords, and reeled up the stiff solid copper magnet wire. It sits in the garage. I have acres and acres of wide open space in the backyard – but that is because it is a golf course. ;(

    1. Jock Elliott

      Well, Hank, you must have head of a “beverage on ground” or BOG antenna . . . so late one night, while the greens keepers are fast asleep . . . you know what to do . . .

      Cheers, jock

  4. Lou

    At first glance, it may seem very straightforward to qualify for a LPFM license but dig a little deeper and it is far from it. There are some many additional hurdles that it makes it near impossible in a lot of areas of the United States.

    1. Jock Elliott


      I have also seen an estimate that it takes about $15k to set up a station and $1k/ month to operate it.

      Cheers, Jock

  5. Don Hall

    Chasing LPFM is a great way to repurpose an old hifi receiver or tuner. Add a homebrew FM yagi with a rotator, and you’ll love the sound. DXing is fun no matter the band.

  6. ThaDood

    I don’t like how watered-down the NAB and FCC made LPFM, but at least we’ve got it back, no thanks to NPR in 1977 for lobbying the demise of the 10 watt, Class D, FM stations. But, ya takes what ya can gets, right? Locally here, we have several LPFM’s around Charleston, WV. I’m in the shadowed fringes of WTSQ-LP 88.1FM, , and on the weekends I’ll pump their audio on my Part 15 AM stations. And, the crew there digs that. Kind of an ass-backwards translator. BTW, more INFO upon digging around LPFM’s is this link from the FCC, Scroll down and do a state-search. Radio Locator also has most LPFM stations. . Now, if we could only get LPAM legalized. We already have a working model in TIS Stations, but 10W AM stations would fill-in, where there’s no room for LPFM’s, and help revitalize AM.

    1. Jock Elliott


      Good idea!

      I wonder what it would take to get LPAM legalized . . .

      Cheers, Jock

  7. SamA

    I am fortunate to have two low-power FM stations within earshot. WOWD-LP 94.3 Takoma Park, MD, and WERA-LP 96.7 Arlington, VA. Both provide eclectic programming I could never find elsewhere on the FM dial. I also have one of the so-called Frankenstein stations at 87.75, La Nueva WDCN in Merrifield, VA, a VHF analog Channel Six holdover that can be heard on the FM band and serving the Washington, DC, market.

    All three add a little spice to the FM band.

  8. Jack K

    The best decision the FCC ever made was the designation of non-commercial frequencies. While there can be lots of preachin’, it offers diversity. And while public radio has gobbled up a few “below 92” signals themselves, LPFM adds to the ability of would-be broadcasters to add the our listening menu. The advent of the DSP chip makes hunting these signals really enjoyable as occasionaly you’ll find different signals just walking from the front to the backyard!

    1. Jock Elliott

      Jack K,

      ” occasionaly you’ll find different signals just walking from the front to the backyard!”

      I believe it!

      Cheers, Jock

  9. Rob W4ZNG

    I have fond memories of WQRZ-LP in the years of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The world definitely needs more of these little community stations. While I am fortunate to now live in WOYS/WFCX-land now (and commercial stations are locally owned and very community-oriented), I still miss that funky little solar-powered shack up in the swamps on the north side of Bay St. Louis.

  10. Robert Gulley

    Hi Jock,
    “The end effect is to look like a drunken sword master while getting into the Better Half’s potted plants, knocking over scanners on the desk, and other encounters with the long whip.”

    We’ve all been there!! 🙂 🙂

    Cheers! Robert

  11. mangosman

    Jock, good luck there are 2118 transmitters to choose from from around 7 Werp to 100 Werp.
    Other options are 9139 translators of AM main transmitters. The most common power is 250 Werp but can be as low as 10 Werp.
    442 FM boosters 10 Werp to 20 kWerp
    In other countries;
    Australia 15 AM mainly radio for the print handicapped 0.5 -10 kW. 441 FM from 10 Werp – 150 kWerp Some of those broadcasters simulcast on DAB+ in capital cities.
    UK 317 on 24 FM small scale DAB+ transmitters of around 100 Werp each. These numbers are increasing


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