translators are broadcast devices that receive a distant station's
signal from over the air, automatically convert the frequency, and
re-transmit the signal locally on a separate channel. Until 1980,
the operators of these devices were required solely to rebroadcast
the program service of a licensed full service TV station, and were
banned from originating all but 60 seconds per hour for fundraising
inserts. In 1980 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced
that it would accept applications to waive the 60-second cap, so
that translators could broadcast original programs--to an unlimited
extent--from any suitable source. This liberalization was made permanent
in 1982, with the creation of a new broadcast service, low power
television, called LPTV.
name derives from the fact that LPTV stations, like the TV translators
that continue to operate, cannot employ transmitter powers in excess
of 1,000 watts. This imposes a practical ceiling on the effective
radiated power, using a high-gain antenna, of 20 kilowatts or so
under ideal conditions. It contrasts with regular full service TV
operations, that are permitted up to 100 kilowatts of effective
power (Channels 2 to 6), 316 kilowatts (Channels 7 to 13), or 5,000
kilowatts in the UHF bands (Channels 14 to 69). As of the end of
1995, the FCC had licensed 1,787 LPTV stations, with 1,224 operating
at UHF, the remainder at VHF. The total number of LPTV's exceeds
the number of licensed full service TV stations in the United States--some
1,180 commercial and 363 noncommercial stations, or 1,543 total.
Prior to the official launch of LPTV services, the FCC had granted
waivers to permit origination of programs in several instances,
notably for rural educational programming in Upstate New York, and
for the satellite-fed bush stations in Alaska, where there was no
practical alternative for delivering television programming to isolated
villages. The first low power television station was constructed
in 1981 by John W. Boler in Bemidji, Minnesota. Boler had been a
pioneer broadcaster in Fargo, North Dakota, and built the Bemidji
facility as a smaller version of a traditional independent TV station,
with regular evening news, studios, a sales force, and even a mobile
service expanded just as the equipment manufacturers were introducing
significant cost and feature improvements for all broadcast components.
It became possible for a crew of one to record programs with a camcorder
on inexpensive S-VHS cassette and use them to offer a watchable
broadcast picture. Satellite services also expanded, giving LPTV
operators a choice of program fare from new networks.
J. Banks, a professor at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania,
performed mail and telephone surveys of low power television stations
in 1988, 1990, and 1994. In the most recent survey, his sample of
456 stations yielded completed interviews with only 129, but the
results are somewhat informative. Seventy-one per cent of the LPTV
stations were commercial, 17% public or educational, 10% religious,
and 2% operated on a scrambled, subscription basis. A plurality,
40%, were in rural areas, but almost as many, 37% were urban, with
the remainder suburban or a mixture. The largest "group owners"
are Alaska Public Broadcasting and Trinity Broadcasting Network.
LPTV was designed to favor minority ownership, but only 8% described
themselves as minority controlled. The Mark J. Banks surveys over
time indicated reduced dependency on satellite-fed program services,
in favor of increased local programming. Stations reporting use
of satellite services dropped from 87% in 1988 to 55% in 1994. Conversely,
the amount of station time devoted to local programming has grown.
The 63% reporting local programming said their most popular categories
were, in order: sports, news, talk, community events, public affairs,
and children's programs. Locally originating stations derive their
greatest revenue by far from the sale of local advertising, and
total revenue is up, to an average of $240,000 per station per year.
power television has achieved a solid niche, providing new services
to rural areas that cannot support full service TV, and to ethnic
and religious groupings in large urban areas. The full service TV
broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, opposed LPTV from its
inception, and sooner or later may succeed in eradicating it. The
FCC no longer assigns any priority to assuring program delivery
to underserved audiences and, as of the end of 1995, the agency
had made no provision for LPTV in the future change-over to some
form of advanced, digitized TV system.
Mark, J. "A Survey of Low Power Television." Community Television
Business (Butler, Wisconsin), Part 1, 19 December 1994; Part
2, 16 January 1995; Part 3, 30 January 1995; Part 4, 13 February
Jacquelyn. Low Power Television: Development and Current Status
of the LPTV Industry. Washington, D.C.: National Association
of Broadcasters, 1985.
Steve. "Nielsen to Measure LPTV's." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington,
D.C.), 13 November 1995.
Communications Commission. Report and Recommendations In The
Low Power Television Inquiry (BC Docket No. 78-153). Washington,
D.C., 9 September 1980.
Low Power Lobby Formed." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.),
6 August 1984.