The Federal Communications Commission approved two local sites for the proposed project

In an effort to boost communication during emergency events, the City of Prineville is pursuing a new local low-power FM radio station.

“It is something that we have talked about for a while,” said City Information Technology Manager James Wilson.

The idea gained considerable traction recently when the Federal Communications Commission approved two city-selected sites.

“We looked at Grizzly Mountain,” Wilson said, “and then we licensed our city transmitter site up by the (Pioneer Memorial) Hospital as well.” The hospital site was chosen as a backup in case the Grizzly location was rejected. They did not expect approval for both.

With an output of less than 100 watts, the FM radio station would reach approximately six to eight-mile radius, far less than commercial stations that run on 1,000 watts or more. In addition, the station must be run by a nonprofit and paid advertising is not allowed.

The city would initially use the radio station as another means of emergency communications in an effort to diversify the way they dispense information to residents.

“Prineville is kind of unique where you need a lot of different ways to reach people,” Wilson said. “You still have people who read the newspaper. You still have people who are watching the ad channel. You still have people who are listening to the radio. Then, you also have everybody who is digital only — Facebook, Twitter. We have a good representation of all of those types, so one medium is not going to reach everybody.”

Although the city pursued the idea with emergency communications in mind, they are considering other uses for the radio station.

“There are a lot of programs that partner with their school and they have a media and broadcasting class that actually produces content that airs on the station,” Wilson said.

For an example of low power radio uses, Prineville could look to Sisters which has utilized the medium in recent years. Bill Mintiens, who served as general manager for the Sisters station, said it was used to provide emergency information during wildfires, and to broadcast such live events as the Sisters Folk Festival or high school athletic events and community meetings.

“The enthusiasm has really been good,” Mintiens said, “from the arts community, from the city government, from the school district. It’s really been a good thing for that community, and it could be a good thing for this (Prineville) community.”

Whether Prineville would pursue other uses beyond emergency communications remains to be seen at this point.

“At a bare minimum, we would build it out and it sits there dormant, and in the event of an emergency, we fire it up,” Wilson said. “We are going to do a little research effort and see how some of these other community projects are governed.”

FCC approval of the two local sites is still pending a 30-day public comment period, although Wilson does not anticipate much resistance.

“The hard part is getting accepted (by the FCC),” he said.

From there, the city must locate funding for the station with broadcast equipment typically costing about $10,000 to $15,000. Then they have to determine a specific location on the proposed property for construction of the station.

“It is a good opportunity, if we are successful with the grant, to find another way to communicate in the community,” City Manager Steve Forrester concluded.

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