Establishing a new radio station
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all radio stations in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, and all US and territories, posessions, and protectorates, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the Marianas, American Samoa, and Guam.
The FCC Rules for establishing new stations vary by the type of service and, for FM stations, by the frequency band.
In the US, the FM band is 87.9 MHz to 107.9 MHz:
87.9 is available only to legacy 10 Watt Class D stations displaced by full power stations that have no other frequencies available to them anywhere on the FM band. It cannot be used by new stations.
88.1 MHz to 91.9 MHz, is reserved for use by IRS-qualified not-for-profit organizations offering qualified educational programs. It is referred to as the "NCE band" or the "reserved band."
92.1 MHz to 107.9 MHz, the commercial, or "non-reserved" band, may be used by commercial and non-commercial interests alike.
New AM stations, new reserved band FM stations, new LPFM stations, and new FM translators may only be proposed during filing windows, which occur rarely. Applications which do not conflict with others are called "singletons," and are granted assuming they pass techical scrutiny.
New full-service stations in the non-reserved (commercial) band are established using a four-step approach:
First, the proponent must file a Petition for Rulemaking to allocate the frequency and class of station to the proposed community, accompanied by an application for the proposed facility and the filing fee.
Assuming the proposal passes technical scrutiny, a Rulemaking Proceeding begins, during which the proposed allocation is published and opened up to competing proposals.
At the conclusion of the Rulemaking Proceeding, which may take years, the new allocation will be established. It may not be at the proposed community, may not be on the proposed channel, and it may not be for the proposed class. In other words, the result may not resemble the initial proposal very much at all.
Having gone through the Rulemaking process, the new allocation will be put in a queue and eventually assigned to an FCC Auction. In the auction, despite having found the potential station and having paid the application fee, the proponent has no special advantage.
So why would anybody go through this process? Good question.