Broadcast license
A broadcast license or broadcast license (elsewhere
Commonwealth English
The use of the English language in most member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations was inherited from British colonisation. English is spoken as a first or second language in most of the Commonwealth. In a few countries, such as Cyprus and Malaysia, it does not have official status, but is...

) is a specific type of spectrum license
The verb license or grant licence means to give permission. The noun license or licence refers to that permission as well as to the document recording that permission.A license may be granted by a party to another party as an element of an agreement...

 that grants the licensee the privilege to use a portion of the radio frequency
Radio frequency
Radio frequency is a rate of oscillation in the range of about 3 kHz to 300 GHz, which corresponds to the frequency of radio waves, and the alternating currents which carry radio signals...

Radio spectrum
Radio spectrum refers to the part of the electromagnetic spectrum corresponding to radio frequencies – that is, frequencies lower than around 300 GHz ....

 in a given geographical area for broadcasting
Broadcasting is the distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via any audio visual medium. Receiving parties may include the general public or a relatively large subset of thereof...

 purposes. The licenses are generally straddled with additional restrictions that vary from band to band. In some cases, the FCC does not assign licenses to any exclusive user, but allows qualified users to obtain a license
The Radio Act of 1927 established the regulatory premise that persists to this day: the spectrum belongs to the public and that licensees have no property rights to continue using it. Although the spectrum is licensed to bidders, the purchase does not represent ownership or rights, only privileges to using that part of the spectrum.

The spectrum can be divided differently, depending on what it will be used for. As indicated in the graph by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Commerce that serves as the President's principal adviser on telecommunications policies pertaining to the United States' economic and technological advancement and to regulation of the...

 (NTIA), the frequency allocation
Frequency allocation
Use of radio frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum is regulated by governments in most countries, in a Spectrum management process known as frequency allocation or spectrum allocation. Radio propagation does not stop at national boundaries...

 can be represented by different types of services that vary in size. There are many available options when getting a broadcast license, even options the FCC recognizes as being necessary. It sometimes moves further to determine how much spectrum to allot to particular licensees within a given band (blocks of 10kHz). The amount of spectrum allotted to a given licensee is a function of whatever bandwidth the FCC concludes is needed for the service in question.

Licensing is also different for public radio and public television, and for community radio
Community radio
Community radio is a type of radio service, that offers a third model of radio broadcasting beyond commercial broadcasting and public broadcasting. Community stations can serve geographic communities and communities of interest...

 and community television
Community television
Australia's Community Television is a form of Citizen media much like Public Access Television in the United States and the Community Channel in Canada...

, as compared to commercial applicants and licensees. Licensees also have to be aware of important dates from the point of needing a license to renewing it. The FCC has dates depending on the type of service that certain requirements are due. This includes radio and television services and vary by state. These requirements include the expiration of the license, the filing date for renewals and other steps that may be necessary for a licensee.

Licensing is performed by a government agency
Government agency
A government or state agency is a permanent or semi-permanent organization in the machinery of government that is responsible for the oversight and administration of specific functions, such as an intelligence agency. There is a notable variety of agency types...

 (the broadcasting authority), providing a mechanism both for managing the limited resource of radio frequency spectrum and for implementing prevailing public policy
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

, such as policies regarding concentration of media ownership
Concentration of media ownership
Concentration of media ownership refers to a process whereby progressively fewer individuals or organizations control increasing shares of the mass media...

. The determination of which frequencies can be used by various licensees is done through a frequency allocation
Frequency allocation
Use of radio frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum is regulated by governments in most countries, in a Spectrum management process known as frequency allocation or spectrum allocation. Radio propagation does not stop at national boundaries...

 process, which in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 is further specified by the Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

 (FCC) in a table of allotments. In the United States, the FCC is authorized to regulate the access to the spectrum for private uses and state and local governmental uses. But it is the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Commerce Department to allocate spectrum for use by the federal government, including the military. This means when there is a re-allocation of spectrum.

In some cases (e.g., CB
-Architectural/engineering:* Block coefficient , determining fullness of ship's hull* Chrysler Building, a skyscraper in New York City, New York* Concrete block/cinder block, also breeze block [UK], foundation block [US], see concrete masonry unit...

 radio), the public may use the spectrum without a need of a license. Generally, for commercial use of the spectrum (such as television, AM/FM radio, and some types of two-way communications), the FCC will assign portions of the spectrum to particular licensees. This is called assignment. . An assigned portion may be a single frequency, or a wide band of frequencies. In the issuing of broadcast licenses, the FCC relies on "comparative hearings", whereby the most qualified user will get use of the spectrum in order to best serve the public interest. However, some researchers have pointed out that the procedure favors entrenched incumbents.

Management of technical specifications, such as those implemented in broadcast television systems, is normally undertaken as a part of broadcast licensing in each country. Various radio bands carry different radio signals, such as video
Video is the technology of electronically capturing, recording, processing, storing, transmitting, and reconstructing a sequence of still images representing scenes in motion.- History :...

 and audio
Sound recording and reproduction
Sound recording and reproduction is an electrical or mechanical inscription and re-creation of sound waves, such as spoken voice, singing, instrumental music, or sound effects. The two main classes of sound recording technology are analog recording and digital recording...

, digital
Digital signal
A digital signal is a physical signal that is a representation of a sequence of discrete values , for example of an arbitrary bit stream, or of a digitized analog signal...

 and analog
Analog signal
An analog or analogue signal is any continuous signal for which the time varying feature of the signal is a representation of some other time varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time varying signal. It differs from a digital signal in terms of small fluctuations in the signal which are...

, narrowband
In radio, narrowband describes a channel in which the bandwidth of the message does not significantly exceed the channel's coherence bandwidth. It is a common misconception that narrowband refers to a channel which occupies only a "small" amount of space on the radio spectrum.The opposite of...

 and broadband
The term broadband refers to a telecommunications signal or device of greater bandwidth, in some sense, than another standard or usual signal or device . Different criteria for "broad" have been applied in different contexts and at different times...

, and different types of content
Content (media and publishing)
In media production and publishing, content is information and experiences that may provide value for an end-user/audience in specific contexts. Content may be delivered via any medium such as the internet, television, and audio CDs, as well as live events such as conferences and stage performances...

, and are therefore licensed differently.

Violation of the terms of a license, either due to technical fault or illegal content, may result in fines, or rarely even revocation
Revocation is the act of recall or annulment. It is the reversal of an act, the recalling of a grant, or the making void of some deed previously existing.-Contract law:...

 of the license. Licenses have also been threatened by a lack of candor on the part of the holder, or the failure to keep a public file
Public file
A public file is a collection of documents required by a broadcasting authority to be maintained by all broadcast stations under its jurisdiction....

 (U.S. and Canada).

Unlicensed broadcasting
Unlicensed broadcasting
Unlicensed broadcasting is a term used for any type of broadcasting without a broadcast license:* Low-power broadcasting, legal but sometimes unlicensed broadcasting...

 refers both to legal devices allowed to transmit at low power
Low-power broadcasting
Low-power broadcasting is electronic broadcasting at very low power and low cost, to a small community area.The terms "low-power broadcasting" and "micropower broadcasting" should not be used interchangeably, because the markets are not the same...

 without a license, and pirate stations which violate the law, often because of insurmountable legal restrictions on getting a license.


Originally, broadcast licenses were issued for only a nominal payment, but work by economist Ronald Coase
Ronald Coase
Ronald Harry Coase is a British-born, American-based economist and the Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Chicago Law School. After studying with the University of London External Programme in 1927–29, Coase entered the London School of Economics, where he took...

 challenged FCC' micromanagement approach. Coase proposed that just as other valuable resource, for example, land, and metal, free market could regulate the use of radio spectrum. This proposition is based on the assumption of Coase theorem, that is, with well-defined property rights, the free market will generally allocate resources to their most efficient use as long as transaction costs are low. He developed an economic theory to indicate that broadcast licenses in a spectrum that was limited had high economic value, which could and should be paid for on the open market
Open market
The term open market is used generally to refer to a situation close to free trade and in a more specific technical sense to interbank trade in securities.-Use of the term in economic theory:...

. Increasingly, spectrum licenses are offered via spectrum auction
Spectrum auction
A spectrum auction is a process whereby a government uses an auction system to sell the rights to transmit signals over specific bands of the electromagnetic spectrum and to assign scarce spectrum resources. Depending on the specific auction format used, a spectrum auction can last from a single...

s, however this fails to consider non-commercial educational
Non-commercial educational
The term non-commercial educational applies to a radio station or TV station that does not accept on air advertisements , as defined in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission . NCE stations do not pay broadcast license fees for their non-profit uses of the radio spectrum...

 users, which are shut out of the process unless steps to ensure their fair consideration are taken.


The process of obtaining a new broadcast license can be very difficult and quite long, sometimes lasting years. A broadcast engineer must first determine an available frequency, of which none may be available in a crowded media market
Media market
A media market, broadcast market, media region, designated market area , Television Market Area , or simply market is a region where the population can receive the same television and radio station offerings, and may also include other types of media including newspapers and Internet content...

 such as most major metropolitan area
Metropolitan area
The term metropolitan area refers to a region consisting of a densely populated urban core and its less-populated surrounding territories, sharing industry, infrastructure, and housing. A metropolitan area usually encompasses multiple jurisdictions and municipalities: neighborhoods, townships,...

s. If one is available, an engineering study must be done and submitted with the application to the broadcasting authority, to prove that it will not cause RF interference with other stations. There was also a limited term for the license once it was acquired. According to the United State Government Printing Office in 1997, the term could exceed 8 years. This has been changed to 5 years and can be shorter depending on whether the FCC decides further evaluation

There is often a two-step process by where a construction permit
Construction permit
A construction permit or building permit is a permit required in most jurisdictions for new construction, or adding on to pre-existing structures, and in some cases for major renovations. Generally, the new construction must be inspected during construction and after completion to ensure compliance...

 is first issued, with the license only being approved when the station certifies that the permit has been executed faithfully, after testing to ensure that all parameters are within allowable tolerance
Tolerance (engineering)
Engineering tolerance is the permissible limit or limits of variation in# a physical dimension,# a measured value or physical property of a material, manufactured object, system, or service,# other measured values ....

s. Once a facility is built and operational, it may be allowed to operate under program test authority
Program test authority
In broadcasting, program test authority is an authorization to conduct on-air testing of broadcast station facilities authorized to be built under a construction permit...

 until the license is issued (or rarely, denied).

Where a station is close to an international border
International Border
The India–Pakistan Border , known locally as the International Border , is the international boundary between India and Pakistan that demarcates the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat from the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Pakistan borders India in the east. The border...

, a license may also need to be approved by the foreign country's broadcasting authority in addition to the domestic, as a form of mutual frequency coordination
Frequency coordination
Frequency Coordination is a technical and regulatory process which is intended to remove or mitigate radio-frequency interference between different radio systems which utilize the same operational frequency....

. This is done even if the border is outside of a station's predicted broadcast range, as unusual radio propagation
Radio propagation
Radio propagation is the behavior of radio waves when they are transmitted, or propagated from one point on the Earth to another, or into various parts of the atmosphere...

 due to weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers, generally, to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate...

 often causes stations to reach well outside of their expected service area.

Existing stations also apply for permits and licenses when making changes to their facilities, such as relocation to another site, changing the radio antenna height, making changes to a directional antenna
Directional antenna
A directional antenna or beam antenna is an antenna which radiates greater power in one or more directions allowing for increased performance on transmit and receive and reduced interference from unwanted sources....

's radiation pattern
Radiation pattern
In the field of antenna design the term radiation pattern most commonly refers to the directional dependence of the strength of the radio waves from the antenna or other source ....

, or when adding or converting to digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting is the practice of using digital data rather than analogue waveforms to carry broadcasts over television channels or assigned radio frequency bands...

. Other situations such as a change in the city of license
City of license
A city of license or community of license, in American and Canadian broadcasting, is the community that a radio station or television station is officially licensed to serve by that country's broadcast regulator....

 are covered in rulemaking
In administrative law, rulemaking refers to the process that executive and independent agencies use to create, or promulgate, regulations. In general, legislatures first set broad policy mandates by passing statutes, then agencies create more detailed regulations through rulemaking.By bringing...

 proceedings in the U.S., which may be a prerequisite to moving a station a significant distance, which would leave its original community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

 outside of its new coverage area.

Temporary situations are covered by special temporary authority
Special temporary authority
In U.S. broadcast law, a special temporary authorization or special temporary authority is a type of broadcast license which temporarily allows a broadcast station to operate outside of its normal technical or legal parameters...

 (STA) to operate at variance
In probability theory and statistics, the variance is a measure of how far a set of numbers is spread out. It is one of several descriptors of a probability distribution, describing how far the numbers lie from the mean . In particular, the variance is one of the moments of a distribution...

 from the license or permit, or a restricted service license (RSL) to operate for a fixed period at low power. While these are U.S. FCC and U.K. Ofcom
Ofcom is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002. It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003...

 terms respectively, many other countries have similar permissions.

In the U.S., legal battles can drag the process out when mutually exclusive
Mutually exclusive
In layman's terms, two events are mutually exclusive if they cannot occur at the same time. An example is tossing a coin once, which can result in either heads or tails, but not both....

 applications are received. This especially happens because the FCC opens application window periods of about a week, after available frequencies have been forced to sit idle for years. Some applications have been pending for years, while others end up in the administrative law
Administrative law
Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. Government agency action can include rulemaking, adjudication, or the enforcement of a specific regulatory agenda. Administrative law is considered a branch of public law...

A court is a form of tribunal, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law...

s or in arbitration
Arbitration, a form of alternative dispute resolution , is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, where the parties to a dispute refer it to one or more persons , by whose decision they agree to be bound...

, sometimes with one applicant seeking a buyout
A buyout, in finance, is an investment transaction by which the ownership equity of a company, or a majority share of the stock of the company is acquired. The acquiror thereby "buys out" control of the target company....

 of another.

Technical specifications

The broadcast license typically specifies the following information at minimum:
  • geographic coordinates, with exact latitude
    In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

     and longitude
    Longitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east-west position of a point on the Earth's surface. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds, and denoted by the Greek letter lambda ....

  • carrier
    Carrier wave
    In telecommunications, a carrier wave or carrier is a waveform that is modulated with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information. This carrier wave is usually a much higher frequency than the input signal...

    Center frequency
    In electrical engineering and telecommunications, the center frequency of a filter or channel is a measure of a central frequency between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies...

     and bandwidth
  • modulation
    In electronics and telecommunications, modulation is the process of varying one or more properties of a high-frequency periodic waveform, called the carrier signal, with a modulating signal which typically contains information to be transmitted...

  • effective radiated power
    Effective radiated power
    In radio telecommunications, effective radiated power or equivalent radiated power is a standardized theoretical measurement of radio frequency energy using the SI unit watts, and is determined by subtracting system losses and adding system gains...

  • height above average terrain
    Height above average terrain
    Height above average terrain is used extensively in FM radio and television, as it is actually much more important than effective radiated power in determining the range of broadcasts...

  • directional antenna
    Directional antenna
    A directional antenna or beam antenna is an antenna which radiates greater power in one or more directions allowing for increased performance on transmit and receive and reduced interference from unwanted sources....

     radiation pattern
    Radiation pattern
    In the field of antenna design the term radiation pattern most commonly refers to the directional dependence of the strength of the radio waves from the antenna or other source ....

    , specified at several azimuths

Additionally, they often specify the following:
  • operating hours for mediumwave
    Medium wave is the part of the medium frequency radio band used mainly for AM radio broadcasting. For Europe the MW band ranges from 526.5 kHz to 1606.5 kHz...

     and shortwave
    Shortwave radio refers to the upper MF and all of the HF portion of the radio spectrum, between 1,800–30,000 kHz. Shortwave radio received its name because the wavelengths in this band are shorter than 200 m which marked the original upper limit of the medium frequency band first used...

  • transmitter power output
    Transmitter power output
    In radio transmission, transmitter power output is the actual amount of power of radio frequency energy that a transmitter produces at its output....

     (TPO), before any attenuation
    In physics, attenuation is the gradual loss in intensity of any kind of flux through a medium. For instance, sunlight is attenuated by dark glasses, X-rays are attenuated by lead, and light and sound are attenuated by water.In electrical engineering and telecommunications, attenuation affects the...

     or gain
    In electronics, gain is a measure of the ability of a circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal from the input to the output. It is usually defined as the mean ratio of the signal output of a system to the signal input of the same system. It may also be defined on a logarithmic scale,...

  • broadcast auxiliary service
    Broadcast auxiliary service
    A broadcast auxiliary service or BAS is any radio frequency system used by a radio station or TV station, which is not part of its direct broadcast to listeners or viewers...

    s (BAS), which link the studio and transmitter sites
  • radio antenna brand and model
  • height above mean sea level
    Above mean sea level
    The term above mean sea level refers to the elevation or altitude of any object, relative to the average sea level datum. AMSL is used extensively in radio by engineers to determine the coverage area a station will be able to reach...

     (AMSL) and above ground level (AGL)
  • backup
    In information technology, a backup or the process of backing up is making copies of data which may be used to restore the original after a data loss event. The verb form is back up in two words, whereas the noun is backup....

     facilities, which often have their own separate licenses
  • additional service authorizations (subcarrier
    A subcarrier is a separate analog or digital signal carried on a main radio transmission, which carries extra information such as voice or data. More technically, it is an already-modulated signal, which is then modulated into another signal of higher frequency and bandwidth...

    s, digital radio
    Digital radio
    Digital radio has several meanings:1. Today the most common meaning is digital radio broadcasting technologies, such as the digital audio broadcasting system, also known as Eureka 147. In these systems, the analog audio signal is digitized into zeros and ones, compressed using formats such as...


Some countries also specify radio format
Radio format
A radio format or programming format not to be confused with broadcast programming describes the overall content broadcast on a radio station. Radio formats are frequently employed as a marketing tool, and constantly evolve...

 or genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 of television programming, in order to ensure diversity. This is the case with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...


For community stations, such as class A television service
Class A television service
The class A television service is a system for regulating some low-power television stations in the United States. Class A stations are denoted by the broadcast callsign suffix "-CA" or "-CD" , although very many analog -CA stations have a digital companion channel that was assigned the -LD...

 and LPFM stations in the U.S., the license may require a certain amount of local content to be broadcast each week. In the case of U.S. broadcast translators, the license instead actually prohibits local community-serving content on FM, while LPTV stations may operate either way.

In rare cases, two stations may share time on the same frequency in the same area. In the city of New York, 89.1 has the unusual stipulation
In the law of the United States, a stipulation is an agreement made between opposing parties prior to a pending hearing or trial. For example, both parties might stipulate to certain facts, and therefore not have to argue those facts in court. After the stipulation is entered into, it is...

 that the frequency is reserved for the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

, however the "vacant" allotment (the only one in the reserved band) is used by WNYU-FM and WNYU-FM1.

renewal of broadcast license

The form necessary for renewal of a broadcast license is the FCC Form 303-S. While the FCC Form 303-S License Application consists of yes/no questions and certifications, it process of renewing the license is not to be taken lightly. The FCC also requires that the licensees certify that they were in compliance with all rules and regulations during prior license term. If a licensee has been acquired in the middle of a term, they will be evaluated from that point on till the end of the license. It is extremely important to be as accurate as possible while answering any questions, because misrepresentation to the FCC could lead to loss of license.


  • Australian Communications and Media Authority
    Australian Communications and Media Authority
    The Australian Communications and Media Authority is an Australian government statutory authority within the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio...
  • Industry Canada
    Industry Canada
    Industry Canada is the department of the Government of Canada with responsibility for regional economic development, investment, and innovation/research and development. The department employs 6104 FTEs across Canada....
  • Radio Spectrum Management New Zealand
    New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development
    The Ministry of Economic Development is a New Zealand public sector organisation tasked with promoting development of New Zealand's economy....
  • Ofcom
    Ofcom is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002. It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003...

     United Kingdom
  • Federal Communications Commission
    Federal Communications Commission
    The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

    United States
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