On August 9, 2019, the FCC issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Low Power FM broadcaster KLIE-LP Fountain Valley, CA, licensee International Crusade of the Penny. The FCC alleges they use a Bext XL-500 transmitter that isn’t certified for use as an LPFM device.
I contacted Dennis Pieri, owner of Bext, Inc. in San Diego and asked what he knew about this violation announcement. First, he told me that all FM transmitters sold for operation in the USA need to be “FCC Approved.” Additionally, transmitters bound for USA low power FM broadcasters need special certification. The Bext XT150 and XT300 transmitters are low power certified, but not the XL500 model mentioned in the FCC NOV. This extra step was presumably designed to keep LPFMs from grabbing overpowered or Chinese knockoff transmitters with excessive harmonics and spurious emissions off-the-air since it was assumed these licensees might need to get on-the-air with minimum cost and less than ideal technical assistance.
Dennis says the transmitter in question was sold by a dealer in 2015, not by Bext directly. The owners of KLIE-LP claim the transmitter is an XL300, not XL500 that the FCC claims to have seen during their inspection. Michelle Bradley of REC Networks, an advocate nationally for LPFMs, says a photo sent by the owners of KLIE-LP clearly shows the label of an XL300. That transmitter is not certified for LPFM but presumably might help make the case that the station wasn’t trying to get around power limits by buying that model, and that the whole XT300 vs. XL300 mixup might be seen as an innocent mistake made by the selling dealer.
We reached out to KLIE-LP for comment, who forwarded the message to Ms. Bradley. While she would not address the incident itself, she provided a link to a REC Networks list of certified LPFM transmitters and reminded transmitter buyers to “look for the FCC ID sticker.”
Update 9/6/2019: Dennis Pieri of Bext, Inc. says he shipped an XT300 to KLIE-LP for no extra charge to replace the XL300 they were sold by a dealer. He says the station has installed the new transmitter. Whether this will satisfy the FCC remains to be seen.
Dream, Meet Reality
If you’ve ever been involved in one of these properties, low power FM stations are regulated to fail. They require at least ten-thousand dollars of capital to get on-the-air if you consider legal, technical, and equipment costs. Then they have ongoing labor and music licensing, maintenance, and utility costs. They aren’t allowed to sell commercials, though they can broadcast strictly-defined underwriting announcements. They have to have eight hours of locally-originated programming daily. Technically, LPFMs are limited to 50 watts output power in the Mexican border zone. This is devalued when their height-above-average-terrain exceeds 100 feet. Oh, and that transmitter needs not only FCC approved but a special LPFM certification. It’s daunting, and why many LPFMs never build out their construction permits and others turn in their licenses after getting their year or two doses of operating reality.