You provide the coordinates, the tool provides the channels . . . maybe.
The inexorable advance of the LPFM juggernaut continues. Hot on the heels of two important decisions designed to (a) break the longstanding logjam involving LPFM proponents and FM translator applicants and (b) establish technical standards for the next round of LPFM applicants, the Commission has released a “Low Power FM Channel Finder” tool. If you’re looking for an LPFM channel, your life just got a whole lot easier.
The tool may be found on the Commission’s website. It’s a model of simplicity: all you have to do is enter the coordinates (in NAD 27, thank you very much, and complete to the nearest second), hit the button, and voilà! The tool will provide you with a list of channels potentially useable for an LPFM station at the chosen coordinates.
The black box innards of the software that allow the tool to work its magic aren’t provided, but that’s probably just as well. What we do know is that it’s set up according to the latest technical criteria established in the recent decisions – including the elimination of third-adjacent channel separations (except to protect stations in Canada or Mexico, or to protect stations carrying radio reading services). The tool also gives you the option of including or excluding channels based on separate requirements for second-adjacent channels and/or Intermediate Frequency (I.F.) channels. While those latter spacing requirements are still technically on the books, the Commission (in the 5th Report and Order) has made clear that it’s open to waiving second-adjacent spacings, and it’s considering eliminating I.F. spacing requirements entirely for LPFMs with less than 100 watts.
Of course, there is no guarantee that any channels will be available at any particular set of coordinates. The fine print on the Finder Tool’s webpage makes that abundantly clear. The fine print goes farther, alerting potential users that even if the tool identifies an available channel, “[t]here is no guarantee that channels represented as ‘available’ will be technically acceptable at the time an application is filed”.
And then there’s this disclaimer (the italics are the FCC's):
Users should be aware that neither the FCC nor the United States Government shall be responsible or liable for any loss, expense, or damage arising from or incident to the use of this program or the underlying data. This program cannot be used to file an application for an LPFM station or to amend a pending application. Use of the search tool does not confer any authority to operate a radio broadcast station.
That seems a bit unnecessary. After all, who would think that, simply by running a channel search on the Finder Tool, you would automatically be getting a radio license, or even filing an application? Perhaps the Commission, having already experienced LPFM applicants in past years, knows something we don’t.