Basically, if you are putting out a signal using more than one watt of power and/or reaching a broadcast radius larger than 200 feet (approximately 67 yards) without the proper license, then you are illegally broadcasting.
Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits the use or operation of any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio without a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission. There are certain limited exceptions. For example, the Commission has authorized the operation of certain low power radios pursuant to Part 15 of the Commission's Rules. (see Part 15 Devices below for more info) Thus, operators of these radio facilities are not required to have individual licenses. However, these signals are very weak and limited to a radius of 200-ft and operators are required to operate their stations in a manner consistent with the Commission's operational and technical rules for those services.
The Commission considers unauthorized broadcast operation to be a serious matter. Presently, the maximum penalty for operating an unlicensed or "pirate" broadcast station (one which is not permitted under Part 15 or is not a Carrier Current Station or Campus Radio Station) is set at $10,000 for a single violation or a single day of operation, up to a total maximum amount of $75,000. Adjustments may be made upwards or downwards depending on the circumstances involved. Equipment used for an unauthorized operation may also be confiscated. There are also criminal penalties (fine and/or imprisonment) for "willfully and knowingly" operating a radio station without a license. DON'T DO IT! See recent Enforcement Bureau orders for unlicensed operations for more.
While many of the Low Power Radio devices sold online or in Christmas supply shops put users in danger of running afoul of the FCC, there are a few devices that that meet the legal requirements and allow the broadcasting of AM or FM radio signals.
Recommended Solution – The Whole House FM Transmitter
This is the best product the Communications & IT team was able to find that conforms to all the legal regulations put forth by the FCC and includes documentation from the FCC describing what is permissible with this device and some easy to understand graphic demonstrations. Please note that as of May 20, this product is on back order. Click here for more info.
A listing of other devices that meet legal requirements can be found at the following links.
Please note that the CTC Communications & IT team have not personally evaluated nor have any hands on or practical experience with any of the devices noted above. Recommendations are solely based on internet research and reviews.
Another Radio Solution - Low Power FM Radio (LPFM)
The FCC has a special class of radio licenses called Low Power FM Radio to create opportunities for more voices to be heard on the radio. The LPFM stations are licensed to operate with 100-watts, which allows them to reach an area with a radius of approximately three and one-half miles. Faith-based organizations are eligible to apply for one of these licenses. However, these licenses can take up to 60 days to procure and are only issued at certain times of the year. Also, it is worth noting that just because you apply for a license you are not allowed to start/continue broadcasting as if you have been granted that license. According to our research, the FCC hasn't issued any new broadcast licenses since 2010.
Read more about low power FM radio licenses at fcc.gov/consumers/guides/low-power-fm-lpfm-radio
What about a PA System?
Another idea for Parking Lot services would be to employ an external PA system. Depending on the size of your “concrete congregation” and surrounding neighborhood, this may not be feasible or economical. However, a portable PA system could be used for other events in a post-COVID world (Easter or Fall Festivals, Summer Camps/VBS, etc.) and it has no risk of your church getting in trouble with the FCC. See below for a sampling of some PA systems to consider.
8 CHANNEL MIXER: This portable stage and studio PA speaker system by Pyle features an 8 channel powered amplifier console audio mixer with digital LCD display which is perfect for mixing audio from multiple sources.
8 INPUTS: Aside from the Bluetooth connection it also features an AUX IN and MP3 input source. It has a USB flash and SD memory card readers, (4) XLR 3 pin connectors, 1/4" input, RCA input / output jacks and it has a 5-Band graphic EQ control
Ultra-compact 500-Watt, 6-channel portable PA system
Perfect for parties, schools, corporate and educational presentations, seminars, aerobics, auctioneers, working musicians, tour guides, weddings, etc.
Enormous power, incredible sonic performance, and super-light weight means no more lugging around dead weight
Extremely powerful 8'' woofers and 1.35'' aluminum-diaphragm compression drivers for incredible sound reproduction
375 watts of output power-ample for medium-size audiences
Integrated seven-channel mixer lets you intuitively mix lecture panels, musical ensembles and more
Bluetooth-equipped-stream wireless audio from mobile devices.