When Radio Is Your Hobby

When Radio Is Your Hobby

defelice-photo 1064After talking with radio hobbyist Bill DeFelice, we’re convinced that deep down inside all of us is a radio station wanting to get out. Maybe that’s why we jack up our stereo systems, have tuning forks for ears, and, for some of us anyway, make broadcast equipment.

Most of us fell in love with radio at a young age. For Bill, it started with his school’s 330 watt FM (WMNR-FM, 88.1 MHz), where he ended up being the CE most of his high school years. He then went on to engineer a variety of stations, from a 1000 watt AM daytimer to a 50 kW FM blowtorch, before his current gig as IT support technologist for the Norwalk Connecticut Public Schools, where he was recruited to build a Part 15 AM and FM station as part of a high school renovation project. Bill is an SBE certified audio and video engineer. In addition to his day job and the occasional broadcast engineering contract on the side, Bill runs a Part 15 deep oldies station from his home that “gets down to the bakery.” He also runs the hobbybroadcaster.net website and forum where other like-minded radio hobbyists share stories and tips. He talked to us two days before College Radio Day about Part 15ers, LPFM and radio in general.

WS: I think most of us have dreamed of running a low-powered Part 15 AM or FM station at one time or another. Who actually runs these micro-stations?

BD: It really varies. Some are DXers and amateur radio people. Many are or have been employed in broadcasting in one form or another. I know one guy who works in sales at a radio station and he just wanted a station that he could run the way he wanted to run it. A lot of these Part 15ers have streams too, so they’re covering the analog and the digital domains.

WS: I wondered about that. Considering that there are now other options for hobbyists, like the web and even LPFM, I imagine Part 15ers are in a minority these days.

BD: You might be surprised. I know of at least one or two (Part 15) stations that started in the late 90s back when they sold radio kits for this sort of thing, and they are still going strong. The (hobbybroadcaster.net) station directory has upwards of 70 stations listed. But these are just the ones that are known. There are many more who quietly run their little station in their neighborhood without much publicity. Some just want to cover their immediate hamlet of listeners – like up and down the street and in their apartment building. Then there are Part 15ers who put up multiple transmitters to cover a town, and they actually go to town and they’re making their mark as being community oriented. One popular Part 15 AM transmitter made by Hamilton Rangemaster, for example, can be linked together (as a single frequency network) so when you’re driving in and out of a particular transmitter coverage area, you don’t get the jarring sensation of going from one to the other.

WS: I take it that some of these Part 15ers are more than just hobbyists?

BD: Absolutely. Besides those stations operating on school campuses, some take the role of radio as a community service very seriously. You’d be surprised how many Part 15ers have radio studios that rival commercial radio stations.

WS: Are Part 15 hobbyists getting on the LPFM bandwagon, then?

BD: They are when there’s a frequency available. Now that the FCC has relaxed the third-adjacent channel spacing requirements, that’s made a bit more frequencies available. A bunch of hobbyists have actually gotten together and formed a sort of cooperative, because it takes more than a handful of people to keep these LPFM stations afloat financially, as you know. Unfortunately, I have seen hobbyists go to apply for an LPFM and get construction permits but, obviously, the make or break is if they can come up with the financing.

WS: Wouldn’t it just be easier and more affordable to set up a web station?

BD: Actually, I think it’s more costly to do an online station because of the royalties. If the music police go after the Part 15 hobbyist, that means anybody who has a little FM transmitter hooked up to an iPod could conceivably get their hand slapped. And that’s not going to hold water.

WS: So, tell me about your Part 15 station.

BD: It’s a deep oldies station. The nice thing about it is, I can listen to my own music. I can go out into my yard and listen to my own music, and I can take a walk up my street and listen to my own music. I live on a dead end street and I can cover the dead end pretty well. I can walk over to the bakery, have a cup of coffee, and flip on the radio station and listen to it there. If my neighbors listen to it and enjoy it, that’s a bonus. But, as it is, I don’t think Arbitron is going to rate a 100 milliwatt AM station anytime soon.

WS: Thanks, Bill. We suddenly feel the urge to go in the back and start building some more radio consoles!

As a confirmed broadcaster and radio hobbyist, Bill has ordered more than his share of Audioarts consoles and Wheatstone processors. His most recent purchase was an Air-1 audio mixer for the school district’s journalism department because, among other reasons, it includes a USB port that gives students “some flexibility to tie into the computer.” He was also happy to see a pair of Audioarts consoles installed when his school’s radio station moved into new studios. Currently, he is experimenting with audio over IP.

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