Do It Yourself Broadcasting
Outlaw Radio
Do-It-Yourself Radio
To start your own station, all you need is a little space, ingenuity, and chutzpah
By Kirk Nielsen
Published on October 01, 1998

You probably don't have the $65 million that Evergreen Media spent in 1996 to buy WEDR-FM (99.1), one of the most popular radio stations in the Miami area. And even if you have money, why waste it? For less than $1000, you can bypass the humdrum commercial mainstream and broadcast your own ultrahip sounds on the airwaves.

Of course, opening a radio station is illegal without a Federal Communications Commission license, which is expensive and virtually impossible to obtain in a major city. But high quality, low-power broadcasting equipment is so cheap these days that you might be tempted anyway. Tell yourself it's just to practice -- while you're waiting for the FCC to get back to you.

First, you have to choose a band. We recommend FM. The other option, AM, requires a huge tower and vast amounts of power. Even low-power FM signals can travel up to 50 miles and require only the power available from a wall outlet.

Next, you need to find a location for your station. Perhaps where your sofa is now. That's all the space you need for the gear. For example, 20, 40, and 100-watt FM transmitters -- popular sizes among microbroadcasters -- are approximately the size of a stereo receiver. Even a 500-watt unit is no larger than a file cabinet.

Then decide whether you can afford it. You can get a decent low-power FM transmitter for as little as $100 and an antenna for $20. Of course, it's not that easy. You'll need a few other things: a power booster, cables, gadgets to ensure a good signal. And your studio will require a microphone, a CD player, and maybe a turntable. But you can keep the damage below $1000.

Two other items are critical to the success of your venture: a filter, which ensures that you transmit only the desired signal, and a limiter, which regulates excessive volume and minimizes distortion. The filter reduces the risk that your transmissions will disrupt another station. Costs range from $10 to $25. The limiter is slightly more expensive -- one sells for $60.

Now it's time to go shopping. You can do that on the Internet. Two of the most prominent and least expensive sources of microradio equipment are seasoned broadcasters. Stephen Dunifer, founder of Free Radio Berkeley, sells radio gear "for educational purposes only," according to his Website ( He peddles transmitters ranging from $105 for a half-watt device to $210 for 40 watts. His antennas cost from $20 to $115. For the novice, Free Radio Berkeley also offers an "On the Air Quick!" package at a price of $595. All you have to do is a little soldering, then plug it in. Tampa radio enthusiast Doug Brewer, whose station was busted by the FCC last year, offers similar kits. His plug-n-play packages range from $700 for a 20-watt assembly to $1475 for a 150-watt set. He also offers a wider variety of equipment, including more powerful transmitters -- up to 500 watts for an unspecified price. You can tour the "Broadcaster's Candy Store" at his Website (www.

You can also shop at a local radio supply store, though they tend to be pricier. One popular store, OMB America at NW 31st Street and 72nd Avenue, sells a 20-watt Spanish-made transmitter for $1800.

When you finally get the stuff, you might want to enlist a sympathetic audio engineer to help set it up. Or you could get a copy of Dunifer's Seizing the Airwaves: A Free Radio Handbook, published by AK Press (888-425-7737). Other sources of information on microbroadcasting can be found on the Internet at and

"Probably the hardest thing is putting the antenna in the right place," says Mark Christopher, creative director of the Womb (107.1 FM), which ceased local broadcasts in July. Adds University of Miami broadcasting professor Paul Driscoll: "What you would need to do is put the antenna up as high as you possibly can to get the signal out as far as you can." Balconies on high-rise buildings are excellent locations for antennas, he notes. They are, however, visible to your nemesis: the FCC.

-- Kirk Nielsen
Do-It-Yourself Radio
From time to time, we will share articles about do it yourself broadcasting that have been written
over the years.

Feud over part 15 AM heats up on Radio Info.

Douglas Speaks volumes to the subject.

Douglas's post was pulled almost as soon as it went up.

The Free Radio Forum

Outlaw Stats
Douglas replies

Methinks that someone else is "obsessed", here!

Agreed, the mounting of a part-15 complainant transmitter "above ground" does indeed extend it's range for exactly the reasons you've stated just as an "omnidirectional" FM array is not ever truly onmidirectional - and the FCC still licenses it as such. Do you visit every FM station with a more than 1db pattern distortion and advise them that they require a pattern study in order to be truly compliant? I'm sure that these pattern distortions do indeed cause a more than 105% ERP (or less than 90% ERP) in one direction or another.

Mr. Fry, I laud your efforts at reigning-in lawlessness but, if you really wish to pursue a worthy cause, I have a long list of real violations (on the order of kilo watts that have gone on for years during which no one has bothered to take corrective actions. In fact, in one instance, a class-A FM replaced (with no FCC filing) a 2-bay array with a 4-bay and did not make any appropriate adjustment of TPO (left it set at 6.3kw into the 4-bay) as compensation. Can we say "12kw. class-A"? In another instance - in the same community - a class-A routinely finds any excuse possible to operate from an unauthorized "backup site" because the additional unauthorized 120+ feet "gives a better signal".

In these two instances alone, the resulting ERPs are easily the equivalent of 12 thousand overpowered part-15 AM transmitters operating at 200% of the authorized part-15 level. Would you like the owner's contact information and will you please police them as zealously as you appear to want to police these poor part-15 operators or, will you do as the FCC has willfully chosen to do (I've been there with them while they were in town and was told by one of their "higher-ups" to "ignore those overpowered stations") and "look the other way because they are owned by a "politically powerful man"?

How about cutting these guys just a little bit of slack, huh? Even at 10 or 20 or even 50 watts, they can't possibly cause the level of interference that the above stations cause on an everyday basis. They may not be "letter of the law" perfect but, then again, I find that their "licensed brethren" can be - and usually are - much more egregious (and willful) violators or rules than these low-power "students of radio". How else would we expect for someone to learn our trade? It certainly is not taught in many schools of higher learning!

Now, I suppose I'll be banned for this but, it is my opinion and I also will respect the opinions of whomever bans me for having an opinion and the freedom to express it. I am sure that you will try to have me banned and, based upon my observations during the past month of lurking, it will happen but, I do far more reading than posting anyway so, I am prepared for the punishment of having an opinion.


Regarding some comments of others, posted earlier...

The subject of the elevated mounting of "Part 15 AM" transmitters continues to be posted because so few people seem to realize its functional effect with regard to 15.219.  There is at least an an equal "obsession" shown by the posts of others not wanting to accept this.

Put another way, the field intensity produced by an elevated system using a 10-meter conducting path from its chassis ground terminal leading to an r-f ground buried in the earth is about the equivalent of using an equally efficient transmitter rated for 4.23 watts of input power with the base of the 3-meter whip a few inches above the earth (other things equal).

Probably most people would not claim to be compliant with Part 15 AM when using a transmitter running 4.23 watts.  Yet using a 100 mW transmitter on an elevated mount as described above is judged by many to be acceptable and even compliant with Part 15, even though the result can be the same.

It would be useful to their customers if the manufacturers of Part 15 AM transmitters recognized this, and did not suggest elevated mounts for their equipment.  One such user who was cited for a long ground conductor under 15.219 even reported that he didn't understand why that happened, as he had followed the manufacturer's advice in his installation.

In any case, this information is not given with the intent to "police" Part 15 AM, but simply to show how it works.

Readers will decide for themselves if/how they wish to use this information

R.FRY is one of those busybody types, just looking for trouble!
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