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New Low-power FM Stations Will Add To The Utah Radio Landscape

fcc, low power radio, FM radio, radio,

November was the deadline to apply to the Federal Communications Commission for a new round of low-power FM radio licenses. In Utah, there are 15 proposals for new stations.

The deadline has just passed for a historic window to apply for low-power FM frequencies. As soon as next year, Salt Lake City and several small towns in Utah could have new non-profit radio stations up and running. Limited to 100-watt transmitters, these will be what are sometimes called “hyper-local” stations.

In Salt Lake City, the most ambitious proposal comes from the Utah Arts Alliance, which already operates an extensive network of arts-related spaces downtown. Vanessa Martineau heads up the effort by the Arts Alliance.

“We want to just focus mostly on local artists, including musicians, art community leaders, and even visual artists. We want to play mostly local music, feature interviews with local artists. We’ve talked about doing live remotes from concerts and other community arts events,” Martineau said.

A Salt Lake church group has applied to operate two Spanish/Christian stations – one would broadcast in English and the other in Spanish.

The town of Green River may soon get its first local radio station. The applicant is a local non-profit, Epicenter, which promotes Green River’s economy, arts and culture. Los Angeles artist Bennet Williamson is helping start the Green River station as part of a fellowship:

“They’re really interested in ways of getting the community’s voice out there, and also getting information about services and programs and activities out to the community – music programs, talk programs, public affairs programs, doing practical things like broadcasting city council meetings. And also the radio station could function as a way to let people know that Green River is there. People driving by on the interstate, to hear about the local businesses and culture that’s happening in Green River,” Williamson said.

The Moab area could see two new stations, one in town, which would be operated by local musician and music retailer Joe Lema. The other would be in nearby Castle Valley, and run by the Seventh-day Adventist Academy. Alexa Hernandez, the school’s principal, said she will consult extensively with Castle Valley residents to see what kind of radio the community wants.

“Knowing that we don’t really have any such type station in our area I thought it might be a nice avenue to just reach out to the community,” Hernandez said.

The school’s 30 students, along with adult volunteers, would run the station.

“We have a couple individuals who have radio experience. If the opportunity provides itself they have expressed that they might be willing,” Hernandez said.

Another small-town application comes from Hyrum. Friend Weller, USU’s Broadcasting engineer, is helping with the project.

“It’s going to be community radio, providing information to the community working with the Hyrum Youth Council, as well as Hyrum City proper, to provide a voice that people can get on the air if they wish – city council meetings, zoning and planning, things of that nature,” Weller said.

Other applicants include the City of Hurricane, Kane County Sheriffs, and the Wasatch County School District, which currently operates an internet radio station.

Nationwide, there is greater competition for these licenses than in Utah. Seven U.S. cities have at least 10 applications. In Chicago, 19 groups are vying for 6 frequencies. In Utah most of the applications, facing no rival applicants, could get their FCC approvals as soon as January.  

The Utah Department of Transportation has withdrawn a controversial request for no less than 54 low-power signals in dozens of rural Utah towns. UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the Department expected more competition.

“The last time the FCC offered these licenses ten years ago there were thousands of applications. So we expected to have stiff competition with the possibility that many of our applications could be denied,” Gleason said. “Our intention is absolutely not to compete with commercial broadcasters. We just want to get the travel information out to the most people that we possibly can reach.”

Gleason said UDOT withdrew the 54 applications after hearing concerns last week from members of the Utah Broadcasters Association, which represents commercial stations. UDOT says instead it will provide more travel information to the existing stations.

Originally from Wyoming, Jon Kovash has practiced journalism throughout the intermountain west. He was editor of the student paper at Denver’s Metropolitan College and an early editor at the Aspen Daily News. He served as KOTO/Telluride’s news director for fifteen years, during which time he developed and produced Thin Air, an award-winning regional radio news magazine that ran on 20 community stations in the Four Corners states. In Utah his reports have been featured on KUER/SLC and KZMU/Moab. Kovash is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette and plays alto sax in “Moab’s largest garage band."