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Guide

How to Apply for a Radio or Television Broadcast Station

In the following sections, we provide some basic information about radio and television stations and the related application processes.

Contents

   Introduction
   AM Broadcast Radio Stations
   FM Radio Broadcast Stations
   FM Noncommercial Educational Stations
   Low Power FM (LPFM) Broadcast Stations
   FM Translators and Booster Stations
   Television
   Low Power TV (LPTV) Stations
   Buying a Station
   Local Public Notice

Introduction

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Heavy Demand for New Broadcast Stations.  Potential applicants for radio and television services should be aware that frequencies for these services are always in heavy demand.  A few years ago, the Commission received approximately 30,000 inquiries in a year from people who wanted to start a radio broadcast station.   Since then, demand for radio broadcast stations has grown while the amount of available spectrum has diminished.  Consequently, when application filing window periods open for new stations, many competing applications are filed.  You should be aware at the outset that the filing of an application does not guarantee you will receive a broadcast station construction permit.  You should also be aware that in many areas of the country, no frequencies may be available on which a new station could begin operating without causing interference to existing stations, a violation of FCC rules.  For that reason, we do not recommend that you purchase any equipment before receiving a construction permit from the FCC.

Expansion of the AM or FM radio bands is unlikely to occur in the near future.  The FM band is constrained from expanding above 107.9 MHz by the presence of aeronautical operations on 108 MHz to 136 MHz, and is also prevented from expanding below 88.1 MHz by Channel 6 television operations on 82.0 through 88.0 MHz.  The AM band was expanded from 1600 to 1700 kHz in the 1990s after years of international negotiations.  However, those frequencies are reserved for existing stations that were causing significant interference in the lower part of the band.

Unlicensed Operation Is Prohibited.  A very common question asked of the FCC is whether broadcasting at very low power requires a license.  Please be aware that unlicensed operation of radio broadcast stations is prohibited, even at low powers such as 1 watt or less.  The only unlicensed operation that is permitted on the AM and FM broadcast bands is covered under Part 15 of the FCC's rules, and is limited to a coverage radius of approximately 200 feet.  (See the Commission's July 24, 1991 Public Notice, which is still in effect.)  Unlicensed operation is not permitted in the television bands (including 87.9 MHz, which falls within the 82.0 to 88.0 Channel 6 television band).  Fines and/or criminal prosecution may result from illegal operation of an unlicensed station (see recent enforcement actions).

Legal and Engineering Assistance in the Preparation of Construction Permit Applications for Licensed Stations.  Most applicants retain legal counsel and broadcast engineering consultants to perform frequency searches and help prepare the legal and technical portions of construction permit applications.  The FCC does not maintain a list of, or recommend, any particular legal services or broadcast engineering consultants, but many of these services do advertise on the Internet and in trade publications.  You must decide which services best suit your needs.  Please be aware that the FCC cannot tell you whether a frequency will be available in a particular location or help in the preparation of applications (except for questions of a general nature). 

Access to a Computer Is Essential.  The Commission is rapidly implementing electronic filing of its applications and the elimination of paper forms.  This procedure has several advantages, including error checking of application entries before an application is accepted for filing, more rapid posting of data, and reduced processing time.  Construction permit applications, for example, must now be electronically filed.  Paper-filed applications will not be accepted for filing.

Application Filing Fees.  For commercial AM, FM, and TV broadcast station applications, filing fees must be paid with the submission of any application.  These fees are detailed in the Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide.

FCC Application Forms.  FCC application forms may be used to help prepare data for an application, but please be advised that forms MUST be electronically filed.  The presence of a "paper" or PDF form does not override the requirement for electronic filing.  Broadcast application forms available for electronic filing can be retrieved through the Media Bureau Electronic Filing page.

FCC Rules.  FCC rules pertaining to radio and television broadcast stations are contained in Parts 73 and 74 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  The CFR is available through the Government Printing Office both online and in book form.  For your convenience, we have posted the radio broadcast station rules.  These rule lists are updated once a year, after the Code of Federal Regulations website is updated to reflect rule changes from the previous year. 

Mutually Exclusive Commercial Auctions.  Where conflicts occur between mutually exclusive commercial applicants (i.e., where interference would be created between applicants if all applications were granted), the conflict will be resolved by means of an auction.  The auction process was mandated by Congress and the President in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.  Information about the auction process is posted on the auctions pages.  Please note that we cannot provide advance information on when an auction or application filing window for a particular service might be opened.  Once an application filing window is determined, a Public Notice will be issued and posted in several places on the FCC web site.

Mutually Exclusive Noncommercial Educational Applications.  Noncommercial educational station conflicts with other timely filed noncommercial educational applicants (i.e., where interference would be created between stations if all applications were to be granted) will be resolved through a point system.  The point system is described in the Report and Order in MM Docket 95-31, FCC 00-120, released April 21, 2000 PDF | Word ].  See also the Memorandum Opinion and Order, MM Docket 95-31, FCC 01-64, released February 28, 2001 PDF | Word ], and see also Sections 73.7000 through 73.7005 of the FCC's rules. 

AM Radio Broadcast Stations

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AM Stations.  AM stations occupy the frequencies of 540 kHz to 1700 kHz.  These stations are allocated on a non-interference basis.  To be acceptable, an application for a new AM broadcast station must show that no interference will be caused to other U.S.  and foreign AM stations on the same frequency, or on the adjacent channels (out to 30 kHz above or below the desired frequency (see 47 CFR 73.37)).  Applications must also consider the second harmonic frequency and intermediate frequency relationships per 47 CFR Section 73.182(s) (for example 2 x 800 kHz = 1600 kHz for the second harmonic relationship; or 800 kHz + 455 kHz I.F. frequency could affect reception on 1250 and 1260 kHz).  In general, these complex engineering analyses require specialized knowledge and software, and are best performed by broadcast engineering consultants.

Rules.  AM station rules include 47 CFR 73.1 through 73.190, and 73.1001 through 73.5009. 

Form to Use, Application Filing Fee.  Construction permit applications for new AM broadcast stations must be electronically filed on FCC Form 301 during a specified application window period.  Noncommercial educational applicants should also use FCC Form 301.  Commercial applicants must include the new station application filing fee listed in the Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide as well as FCC Form 159 with the fee payment and application.  Please note that payments for commercial applications not paid online must be directed to the lockbox address and NOT the FCC in Washington, D.C. 

Additional information about AM broadcast stations and applications is available at the AM Broadcast Radio Stations page.

NOTICE: THE FCC IS NOT ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR NEW AM BROADCAST STATIONS AT THE PRESENT TIME. 

The Media Bureau will announce a filing window period at intervals during which new station applications and major change applications can be filed.  Filing window announcements will be made via Public Notice, and posted at several locations on the Commission's website.

FM Commercial Radio Broadcast Stations

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FM commercial stations may be authorized on 92.1 MHz to 107.9 MHz, corresponding to Channels 221 through 300.  Noncommercial educational FM stations may also be authorized in this band but these applications must meet the spacing, 70 dBu city coverage and other technical criteria applicable to commercial stations. 

Rules.  FM commercial station rules include 47 CFR 73.201 through 73.333, and 73.1001 through 73.5009.

Requesting a New Allotment.  An applicant/petitioner seeking to apply for a new allotment must:

  • Electronically file FCC Form 301, Application for Construction Permit, for the specific allotment proposed by the petitioner.  This application must be complete and acceptable.  The applicant must pay the rulemaking fee as well as the application filing fee listed in the Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide as well as FCC Form 159 with the fee payment and application.  Please note that payments for commercial applications not made online must be directed to the lockbox address and NOT the FCC in Washington, D.C.
  • On the same day Form 301 is filed, file a petition for rulemaking on letter-sized paper (an original and two copies) through the Office of the Secretary, FCC.  The petition must (1) include the proposed new channel, class, and the community to be served;  (2) the proposed new allotment site must meet the spacing requirements of 47 CFR Section 73.207 of the Commission's rules to other stations, prior-filed applications, and vacant allotments, and (3) the proposed new allotment site must provide at least a 70 dBu signal strength over the entire community of license.

The petition and application must cross-reference each other so that we can associate the two related filings.  We will then consider the merits of the petition for rulemaking.  If the petition for rulemaking is technically acceptable, the Media Bureau will release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will indicate the date by which interested parties can file comments or counterproposals.  If approved, an FM allotment will be created and placed in a future FM broadcast auction proceeding.  At a minimum, the petitioner/applicant must qualify to bid in the auction.  If the applicant is the successful bidder for the allotment, the previously filed Form 301 construction permit application will become the applicant's post-auction long-form construction permit application.  Petitions for rulemaking for new allotments should be directed (in triplicate) to the attention of the Audio Division (MB), c/o Office of the Secretary, TW-B204, FCC, 445 12th Street NW, Washington, DC 20554. 

The Commission has posted an allotment finder program for commercial FM allotments that may help you identify potentially available channels at a given location.  Please note that there is NO finder's preference awarded for proposing new or modified FM allotments.

Auctions. Once auction filing window dates are announced for allotments that were previously created, instructions for filing applications will be released on a Public Notice and posted on the Audio Division website.  We cannot provide advance information on when the next auction or application filing window might take place (see the general information about auctions). 

NOTICE: THE FCC IS NOT ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR NEW FM COMMERCIAL STATIONS AT THE PRESENT TIME.

Additional information about FM commercial stations and applications is available at the FM Broadcast Radio Stations page.

FM Noncommercial Educational Radio Broadcast Stations

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FM noncommercial commercial (NCE) stations may be authorized on 88.1 MHz to 91.9 MHz, corresponding to Channels 201 through 220 (sometimes referred to as the "reserved band").  No commercial operation is permitted on these frequencies.  FM noncommercial educational stations may also be authorized in the commercial FM band under the technical rules applying to that service (see the preceding section).  Contour protection is used in the reserved band to determine if interference will exist to other stations (see 47 CFR 73.509). 

Rules.  FM noncommercial educational station rules include 47 CFR 73.501 through 73.599, and 73.1001 through 73.4280.  A number of rules also refer to sections in the commercial FM rules (47 CFR 73.201 to 73.333).  For FM NCE stations on Channels 201 through 220, no allotment will be established.  Allocation is made via an on-demand system, with applicants receiving construction permits for facilities that will not cause interference to other stations.  Interference calculations are made using specified signal strength contours.  The protected service contour of a station (think of a rough circle at some distance from the transmitter site) for one station generally cannot overlap an interfering contour from another station.  See rule section 47 CFR Section 73.509.  Applicants must also protect pending applications that were filed before the announcement of the application filing window.  Future filing window announcements will be made via Public Notice and posted at several locations on the Commission's website.

Construction Costs. The FCC does not collect data concerning the costs of construction and equipment for noncommercial educational FM stations, but the NTIA has posted a list of typical costs for noncommercial educational FM stations on its Public Telecommunications Facilities Program website (cost information may not be up to date).  Costs can vary considerably from the listed values, so caution must be used in applying these estimates.  Applicants and potential applicants should not purchase equipment before receiving a construction permit from the FCC, brcause they may not be able to use or resell it if the application is not approved.

Form to Use.  FCC Form 340 for noncommercial educational stations must be used to apply for this type of FM station.  Applicants for noncommercial educational stations pay no application filing fee.  Applications for new noncommercial educational stations must be electronically filed only during the announced application filing window period.

NOTICE: THE FCC IS NOT ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR NEW FM NONCOMMERCIAL EDUCATIONAL BROADCAST STATIONS AT THE PRESENT TIME.

Additional information about FM noncommercial educational broadcast stations and applications is available at the FM Broadcast Radio Stations page.

Low Power FM (LPFM) Noncommercial Educational Radio Broadcast Stations

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LPFM NEW STATION APPLICATION FILING PERIOD IS OPEN OCTOBER 15, 2013 to NOVEMBER 14, 2013 (6 PM EST)!

Low power FM (LPFM stations operate with 1 to 100 watts of power and cover a radius up to approximately 5.6 km (3.5 miles).  Current information about the low power FM filing service is maintained on the LPFM page.  The Audio Division has also assembled a program to help find potentially available FM channels for LPFM stations.

Applications for new LPFM stations can only be filed electronically on FCC Form 318 during the dates specified for an application filing window.  Applications received at other times will be returned without consideration.  We cannot provide advance information as to when the next application filing window period may be, but when that information is announced, it will be in the form of a Public Notice and posted at several places on the FCC's website.

Construction Costs. The FCC does not collect data concerning the costs of construction and equipment for noncommercial educational FM stations, but the NTIA has posted a list of typical costs for noncommercial educational FM stations on its Public Telecommunications Facilities Program website (figures therein may not be up to date).  Costs can vary considerably from the listed values, so caution must be used in applying these estimates.  Applicants and potential applicants should not purchase equipment before receiving a construction permit from the FCC, because it may not be possible to use or resell the equipment if the construction permit application is not approved.

Additional information about LPFM noncommercial educational broadcast stations and applications is available at the LPFM Broadcast Radio Stations page.

FM Translators and Boosters

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FM translator stations rebroadcast existing FM stations to small areas.  Some daytime-only AM stations may also be rebroadcast over FM translators.  Noncommercial educational FM translators may be authorized on any frequency, while FM translators rebroadcasting commercial stations must stay on frequencies from 92.1 MHz to 107.9 MHz (Channels 221 to 300).  Translator stations are prohibited from transmitting any programming not also transmitted on the originating or primary station at the same time.

Form to Use, Application Filing Fee. FCC Form 345 for translator stations must be used to apply for this type of FM station.  All translator applications must be electronically filed.  Commercial applicants must include the new station application filing fee listed in the Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide as well as FCC Form 159 with the fee payment and application.  Noncommercial applicants are not required to submit the application filing fee.  Competing applications will be set for auction, with the highest bidder receiving the construction permit for that allotment.  (See the general information about auctions.)

NOTICE: APPLICATIONS FOR NEW COMMERCIAL OR NONCOMMERCIAL EDUCATIONAL TRANSLATORS CAN NOT BE FILED AT THE PRESENT TIME.

The Media Bureau will announce a filing window period at intervals during which new station applications and major change applications can be filed.  Filing window announcements will be made via Public Notice and posted at several locations on the Commission's website.  Please note that we cannot provide advance information on when the next application filing window might be.

Rules.  FM Translator and Booster rules include 47 CFR 74.1 through 73.34, and 47 CFR 74.1201 through 73.1290. 

Television Stations

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Television in the United States is allocated through a Table of Allotments (47 CFR 73.622).  At this time, all full service television stations transmit digitally, with television translator (repeater) and low power TV (LPTV) stationsfinishing a conversion to digital transmissions.  Until the conversion to digital TV broadcasting is complete, the Commission is not accepting applications for new television stations.

Auctions Will Be Required.  When the Commission does begin to accept applications for new commercial television stations (to be announced in a Public Notice), these applications will be subject to broadcast auctions, with the possible exception of those few allotments specifically reserved for noncommercial educational television use.  (See the general information about auctions.)

Rules. Television rules are covered in 47 CFR 73.601 to 73.699, and 47 CFR 73.1001 to 73.5009. 

Construction Costs. The FCC does not collect data concerning the costs of construction and equipment for television stations, but the NTIA has posted a list of typical costs for a noncommercial educational (public) television station on its Public Telecommunications Facilities Program website (cost information may not be up to date).  Costs can vary considerably from the listed values, so caution must be used in applying these estimates.  Applicants and potential applicants should not purchase equipment before receiving a construction permit from the FCC, as it may not be possible to use use or resell the equipment if the construction permit application is not approved. 

Low Power Television (LPTV) Stations and TV Translator Stations

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A low power television station operates with less than 150 kW of power on Channels 14 through 69, or 3 kW on Channels 2 through 13.  An LPTV station may broadcast material independent of any television station.  A television translator station rebroadcasts the programming of an existing television station, and does not originate programming.

Form to Use, Filing Window. An application filing window will periodically be announced (via Public Notice) during which interested parties can submit applications.  Applicants will be required to use FCC Form 346, Application for Construction Permit, when filing. 

Rules.  LPTV and television translator rules are covered in 47 CFR 74.1 through 74.34, and 47 CFR 74.701 through 74.797.

Buying an Existing Station

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If you are considering purchasing a broadcast station, you must contact the current owner of the station.  The FCC does not keep a list of stations potentially for sale, nor does it participate in negotiations of any sales contract.  Also, we do not maintain a list of telephone numbers of station owners, as telephone numbers often change.  After you have found a station for sale and have signed a contract to purchase the station, FCC Form 314 (Application for Consent to Assignment of Broadcast Construction Permit or License) must be electronically filed within 30 days along with the appropriate application filing fee.  Applicants who apply to purchase a station may not take over operation until the FCC approves the application to purchase the station.  Once the application is approved, the buyer must submit a letter of consummation within 90 days of the grant.  FCC Form 323 (Ownership Report for Commercial Stations) or FCC Form 323-E (Ownership Report for Noncommercial Educational Stations) must also be submitted within 90 days of the grant.  FCC Form 315 (Application for Consent to Transfer of Control of Corporation Holding Broadcast Station Construction Permit or License) must be submitted when a controlling block of shares of a broadcasting company is transferred to a new entity or an individual. 

There is also FCC Form 316 (Application for Consent to Assignment or Transfer of Control), which is used when a station is involuntarily transferred, such as to a trustee in bankruptcy.  FCC Form 316 is also used for Pro Forma (changes in form, not substance) assignments and transfers, such as a sale from a person to a corporation controlled by that person.  Broadcast applications must be electronically filed and must include the application filing fee listed in the Media Bureau Fee Filing Guide along with FCC Form 159.

Applications for noncommercial educational stations do not require require a filing fee.

Applicants Must Give Local Public Notice

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All applicants for new broadcast stations, and all applicants to change an existing station's community of license, must give local notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the community in which the station is to be licensed.  They must also give to the public an opportunity to file comments on these applications with the Commission.  Copies of the application must be maintained in the station's public files or at a location accessible to the public in the community where the station is proposed, for example a public library or post office.  Licensees who submit a license renewal application must give local public notice of the filing by broadcasting announcements over their stations.  See rule section 47 CFR Section 73.3580.

Additional Information

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Updated: October 24, 2013
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