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The other low power radio finds its voice

As Low-Power Local Radio Rises, Tiny Voices Become a Collective Shout
By Kirk Johnson, the New York Times
     Low-power nonprofit FM stations are the still, small voices of media. They whisper out from basements and attics, and from miniscule studios and on-the-fly live broadcasts. They have traditionally been rural and often run by churches; many date to the early 2000s, when the first surge of federal licenses were issued...
     Low-power FM stations can typically be heard for about three and a half miles if a bigger station or obstacle does not block the signal. ...nearly 2,500 low-power stations in some stage of licensing, construction or active broadcast across the nation...
     You want weird? Just turn the dial. One station in Seattle invites listeners to phone their dreams and fantasies into a recorded line, then puts them on the air, at least the ones that don’t raise concerns about F.C.C. indecency rules...
What low-power urban radio creates, believers say, is a sense of community, a defined physical stamp of existence that goes only as far as it can be heard. So new licensees and programmers are knocking on doors near their antennas and holding fund-raisers at the local brewpub. 
     That’s a stark contrast to the amorphous everywhere-but-nowhere world of the web, and the web-streaming radio or podcasts that a few years ago seemed most likely to take center stage in low-budget community communications. 
     Local media - radio, newspapers and even television, are strongest when closely connected to the community served.

The potential value of hobby broadcasting

By Paul Riismandel in Podcast Survivor, 
Podcasting, in www.radiosurvivor.com
"...I started out as a supporter of, and worker in college and community radio more than twenty years ago for very similar reasons. These grass-roots radio forms permit people who might never consider a career in commercial or public radio to present music, culture, news and ideas to an wide audience..."
     "Podcasting builds upon and broadens this opportunity because it is free from the scarcity of the broadcast spectrum, which then means there are fewer–if any–gatekeepers needed..."
     "Some of the next big podcasts may very well start out as hobbies. More to the point, I hope so. Because it’s an arena where we have a good shot of hearing new approaches, fresh voices and innovative storytelling..."
     Even if a podcaster’s audience is small, each one of those listeners is still important. It’s like the well-worn observation about the Velvet Underground: They didn’t sell a lot of records, but everyone who bought one went out and started a band (influenced by VU). Impact, influence and connection can and must be measured by more than downloads and CPMs..."
     I think Paul has done a great job capturing the essence of hobby broadcasting, too, and maybe even a glimmer of hope for the severely, perhaps even terminally ill radio industry.
     Another article suggests low power radio might have some commercial applications for operations looking to test audiences for future expansion. Please to be reading Can You Do a Lot With 0.1 Watt?
appearing in Radio World magazine.
     Could hobby broadcasting help point the way to a better approach to the use of spectrum than we are seeing today?
     It just might be up to us, the hobby broadcasters, to pull the struggling radio industry out of its self destructive funk and back into the hearts and minds of consumers today.

Solar powered low power radio, part four - final fall fail

Solar panels and new antenna
See part one of this series here:
Quick and simple FM radio station goes solar
See part two of this series here:
Solar powered low power radio, part two
See part three of this series here:
Solar powered low power radio, part three - more mistakes
     In part three of this series I had retreated back to the Scosche transmitter powered by two solar panels and a five amp hour deep cycle 12 Volt battery.
     Digging around in my transmitter inventory, I pulled out an old 2004 edition of the EDM Designs 10 milliwatt PLL FM transmitter.
     I also dug out a 2009 version of a Comet antenna knock off to help that 10 milliwatts get out a little better.
     After re-crafting the transmitter enclosure and mounting the new antenna, I was ready to try again.
     The result - very encouraging!
     Range was far greater, with my signal strong for several blocks. Power was lasting through the night even thought the fall days were getting shorter.
Transmitter, voltage manager and MP3 player
     They say night falls quickly in the tropics, but on the Canadian border our twilight lingers. Up here, the sun slips far to the south as fall turns to winter. The arc the sun travels gets lower and shorter week by the week.
     Not only do the days get much shorter, but the shallow angle of the low sun means the the sun's rays must pass through exponentially more atmosphere to reach us.
     In mid-November, the station was no longer able to collect enough solar power to adequately charge the battery for overnight operation.
     As we approached the winter equinox, the station only operated for a few hours between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. On heavily overcast days, the station didn't broadcast at all.
     Adding two more 10 watt panels helped a little, but these short, overcast winter days just don't deliver any meaningful solar energy.
     With 40 watts of solar panels unable to do more than power the station an hour or two each day, the situation looked pretty grim.
     The short, wet days and long dark nights meant the ad hoc, hook-it-up-and-see-what-happens approach was no longer an option. I would need to use a different approach to continue to explore this concept.
     What would be next for solar powered low power radio? Watch this space for more!      

Solar powered low power radio, part three - more mistakes

See part one of this series here:
Quick and simple FM radio station goes solar
See part two of this series here:
     Last time we looked over my first effort at launching solar powered low power radio and we learned I made several pretty silly mistakes along the way.
     These mistakes included underestimating the power consumed by my first configuration and vastly overestimating the power provided by my 1.5 watt solar panel.
     My mistakes meant I had created a solar assisted system that ran off the battery and that received some supplementary power from the solar panel.
     I remedied this by buying a 10 watt panel and trying again. While I enjoyed some success with this new configuration, the next upgrade I needed was to get a proper battery. As the long days of summer sun slipped into fall, the surplus battery wasn’t holding charge long enough to power the station through the night.
     I decided on a 5 amp hour deep cycle battery and, realizing the days were going to get much shorter very soon, I added another 10 watt panel to my order. Now I would have, a total of 20 watts of solar power or a theoretical maximum of 1.6 amp amps per hour of full sunlight.
     With the new panel and deep cycle battery in place, I turned my attention to my transmitter. I love those little Scosche units but like most of us, I am always interested in just a little more power. While browsing Amazon, one of those BH1415F chip-based units caught my eye, offering .100 watts to .500 variable watts of power.
     Ordering that transmitter would mark the beginning of my next comedy of errors, where I make all the mistakes and pass the savings on to you.
     With a potential 1.6 watts of power coming from my 20 watt array, I confidently ordered the BH1415F transmitter. My flawed thinking was that with a 5 amp hour battery and 1.6 amps of solar power charging and operating, my battery should be fully recharged after just 3 hours of sun.
     With even a short 8 hours of sunlight in the coming winter, this should provide more than enough energy to run the transmitter and recharge the battery.
     1.6 amps times 8 hours gives a gross charge of 12.8 amps. Taking out 5 amps to recharge the battery left 7.8 amps to run the station - more than enough, right?
     Wrong - in so many ways! After setting up the station and starting the broadcast day on a fully charged battery, my new transmitter ran for 6 hours and then went dark.
     What happened? While the new transmitter came with a 2 amp power supply, I had the unit set to the lowest output level at .100 watts, certain that this setting would keep the power demands at a minimum.
     Wrong again! Getting out my VOM and measuring current used, I found that the new transmitter used 1.85 amps no matter what the power setting might be. Lesson learned? Low power FM transmitters can be real power pigs!
     The new transmitter went right back on ebay and out the door. Once again I had created a solar assisted station. With 1.6 amps coming in and around 2.10 amps going out there was no way the poor little 5 amp hour battery could keep up. The hourly deficit took its toll and and took the station off the air.
     Spoiler alert - we’ve only actually measured demand at this point. I was still using the theoretical input number. You'll see why that's important very soon...
     Temporarily defeated, I put the Scosche transmitter back in service and went happily back to a fully solar powered, very low power operation.
     Would this be the end of my mistake-burdened journey in solar powered low power radio? Stay tuned...