Shortly after the first regularly scheduled radio broadcasts began,
commercials began. Ever since then, radio station owners and managers
have tried to make radio broadcasting a profitable venture. In these
days of falling stock prices, failing businesses and dropping ad
revenues, it is more difficult than ever to make it profitable.
One of the areas that is often cut back to save money is
engineering. Conventional wisdom states that engineering is an
unavoidable expense that should be reduced as much as possible.
However, some creative thinking can turn that expense into revenue.
Extra tower space can be a valuable
commodity for a station that owns its own tower.
For many years, FM stations have had the ability to add a subsidiary
communications authorization (SCA) to their signal. This is an
additional signal that rides on the main carrier and needs a special
receiver to be detected. Because it is outside of the bandwidth of the
main signal, it is inaudible in normal receivers, except in unusual
cases (quiet main signal and older receivers). The only stations that
have a problem with SCAs are those that broadcast classical music, and
recent advances in technology makes that rare.
While the FCC does not specify a limit to the number of SCA signals
a station can use, most limit themselves to no more than two. This is
because each SCA signal reduces the main channel modulation
SCA customers have taken several forms throughout the years. Some of
the oldest SCA users are reading services for the blind, often found on
the SCA of non-commercial stations. Other users are minority or niche
programming, such as foreign language programming. The audio quality of
SCA signals is not as good as normal FM programming, but many of the
listeners of these services are so starved for programming that it
doesn't matter to them.
In addition to audio services, various data services can be used.
One of the earliest uses of data service was for paging systems, but
the data has also been used for tracking golf carts, and an attempt at
interactive programming associated with TV signals. As the Internet has
expanded, many of these data services have disappeared, but there are
others waiting in the wings.
Radio broadcasters have other facilities that can be leased as well.
Most radio stations use a tower. If the station owns a tower, consider
the possibility of leasing some tower space as a communications
service. Some possibilities include fire and police communications,
business communications, paging services and cell phones. Make sure
that the tower structure will support the extra loading of antennas and
transmission lines. Some of these services may also want to hang an
equipment enclosure on the tower near the antenna, which will further
increase the loading on the structure. Also, it is important that
anything attached to the tower will have little or no impact on the
Consider putting clauses in a contract that allow the station to
break the lease if the lessee's equipment or practices cause a problem
and they refuse to rectify it in a reasonable period of time.
More ways than one
Do you have a spare control room sitting dormant? Make it available
for spot production for local retailers. The spot is recorded in the
studio (make some money), and you put it on the air (more money).
Unless the advertiser is working exclusively with your station, provide
tapes for other stations. The advertiser would be more likely to come
back to you next time, which will translate into more money. Make the
studio available free to station advertisers as a value-added
Is there some extra space in the building? Maybe it is a storage
room for equipment that was replaced 20 years ago. Consider investing
some money to make it into a studio for hire. Most towns have young
bands that are looking for their big break, but need a demo to get
their foot in the door. Make a place where they can cut this demo.
While you are at it, with the cost of computers tumbling almost daily,
providing a digital editing facility may be a big boost for the studio
as well as the station.
Carter is chief engineer of WFMT-FM, Chicago.