Another Kind of Low-Power Station Hogging Radio Spectrum

As I covered in the news headlines for Friday’s radioshow, the industry journal Radio World is paying some attention to the mountain of 13,000 applications made for FM translator stations during a short application window.

Translator stations are low-power FM stations that can only retransmit the signal of a full-power station — they are forbidden from originating any programming (save emergency notices). What’s so scandalous about translators is that they are allowed to be sandwiched on the dial much closer together and to full-power stations than regular low-power FM stations that originate their own programming.

Recall that back in 2000, Congress intervened in the FCC’s implementation of LPFM to declare that the spacing standards set by the FCC — which basically mirrored the standards for translators — were a horrible interference threat. Thus Congress set the spacing requirements for LPFM stations to be the same as full-power stations operating at 10 – 1000x times the power, and then mandated the FCC commission an independent study on the interference effects of LPFM stations.

Of course, Congress didn’t pay any attention to translators which differ from LPFM stations only in what they broadcast — there’s no technical difference. So translator stations could continue to be squeezed onto the dial, supposed interference be damned.

RW reports that some radio engineers are upset about the FCC processing so many translator applications so quickly because they’re afraid they don’t have sufficient time to see if the new stations will interfere with the existing full-power stations that they work for. However, the interference claims don’t ruffle me, since for both translators and LPFM stations it’s largely a red herring, and has since been disproven by the Congressionally mandated Mitre report.

What’s troubling is that the translator licensing window amounts to an enormous spectrum giveaway to stations that will not come even close to serving their local communities as well as LPFM stations that must originate at least 8 hours a day of local programming by FCC rules.

On top of that, the nation’s biggest holders of translator licenses are enormous right-wing Christian radio networks that subsist almost entirely on hundreds of these low-power translator stations. Commercial stations can only have translators to fill in gaps in their local coverage, while these godcasters slip through as “educational” non-profits which allow them to have translators to rebroadcast stations thousands of miles away.

This perverse twisting of the translator rules allows them to create nationwide radio networks for just a fraction of what it would cost with regular full-power station licenses, and all without having to even pay lipservice to local public service requirements.

Finally, these translators take up valuable spectrum space that could otherwise go to full-service, locally-originated low-power community radio stations. Whereas low-power stations cannot be owned in chains, mandating a level of locally-owned diversity, the godcasters brazenly apply for dozens of stations on multiple frequencies in adjacent towns. In some cases they’re even filing multiple applications for the same frequency in locations just several miles apart.

According to RW, the top two applicants for translator stations are the evagelical Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting, which approximately filed a combined 4,000 short-form applications. The FCC approved 157 of Radio Assist Ministry’s applications and 97 from Edgewater Broadcasting.

Here in the Central Illinois Area alone, Radio Assist Ministry filed 34 applications for translator stations just within 60 miles of Champaign. In some cases Radio Assist Ministry filed multiple applications for the same frequency in several adjacent towns. Edgewater filed 12 applications, mostly in rural communities, but including 2 each for stations in Rantoul and Danville.

And Congress and the NAB were worried about 100 watt non-commercial, locally-owned community stations making a mess of the FM dial?

There is no clearer example of that fact that communications and media regulation, at root, has much less to do with interference, spectrum integrity and interference than it does with who’s buttering whose bread. These multi-state mega-ministries have more pull than local community broadcasters with Congress, the FCC and the NAB, consistency and fairness be damned.

But this is no condemnation of regulation, nor advocacy for deregulation. The problem is deeper, since “deregulation” is what gets us into this problem in the first place. The problem is the undemocratic policing of the airwaves by agency hacks that owe more to the industry they police than to the public at large. The problem is not regulation, per se, but who makes the regulation, and how they and their cronies stand to gain.

4 Responses to Another Kind of Low-Power Station Hogging Radio Spectrum

  1. Ron Myers December 2, 2003 at 6:31 pm #

    Gentlemen:

    I am a part-time consulting engineer and have been assisting local Low Power FM stations get started in several communities.

    As you know the FCC opened a short filing window this week, a settlement period, so that mutually exclusive LPFM applicants could resolve their conflicts by moving to unused adjacent channels.

    Thanks to this damnable translator filing window, so abused by Radio Assist Ministries, Calvary Chapel, Edgewater and the likes, there are NO channels left. Not one channel where there were several dozen.

    A prime example: at Bozeman, MT., the local high school just advised me they are dropping their application, and my applicant will likely be dismissed, candidate on 107.7 MHz. Based on points, our channel will go to an LPFM applicant owned by the local Calvary Chapel who have not had the courtesy to return my telephone calls over recent weeks. They will win by default in the point system, but are cheated by blocking up the band with translator applications to make it impossible for anyone else’s voice to be heard.

    At Bozeman, Radio Assist Ministries has filed for 9 channels. Calvary chapel of Twin Falls 5 channels. Edgewater will have 4 channels. All seem to have worked in orchestration so as to not file on the same channels.

    This is an absolute travesty and smacks at any freedom of speech.

    I am prepared to legally attack this mob.

    Would you help me?

    Kindest regards,

    Ron Myers

  2. Ron Myers December 2, 2003 at 6:32 pm #

    Gentlemen:

    I am a part-time consulting engineer and have been assisting local Low Power FM stations get started in several communities.

    As you know the FCC opened a short filing window this week, a settlement period, so that mutually exclusive LPFM applicants could resolve their conflicts by moving to unused adjacent channels.

    Thanks to this damnable translator filing window, so abused by Radio Assist Ministries, Calvary Chapel, Edgewater and the likes, there are NO channels left. Not one channel where there were several dozen.

    A prime example: at Bozeman, MT., the local high school just advised me they are dropping their application, and my applicant will likely be dismissed, candidate on 107.7 MHz. Based on points, our channel will go to an LPFM applicant owned by the local Calvary Chapel who have not had the courtesy to return my telephone calls over recent weeks. They will win by default in the point system, but are cheated by blocking up the band with translator applications to make it impossible for anyone else’s voice to be heard.

    At Bozeman, Radio Assist Ministries has filed for 9 channels. Calvary chapel of Twin Falls 5 channels. Edgewater will have 4 channels. All seem to have worked in orchestration so as to not file on the same channels.

    This is an absolute travesty and smacks at any freedom of speech.

    I am prepared to legally attack this mob.

    Would you help me?

    Kindest regards,

    Ron Myers

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. mediageek » Trouble in the Temples of Christian Broadcasting - May 26, 2006

    [...] This situation is important because CSN Radio is built almost entirely upon translator stations — low-power stations that may be more liberally placed on the dial than regular noncommercial LPFM stations, but that are forbidden from originating their own programming. These stations, that bring no local programming to a community, hog up spaces that can be used by full-service truly local stations. [...]

  2. Starked SF, Unforgiving News from the Bay » Blog Archive » Talk of the Town: Tuesday - October 31, 2006

    [...] Further Doc Searls observation and linkage on NPR and FM modulators. And let’s not forget another cause of bottom of the dial radio weirdness: Christian right stations poaching bandwidth. [...]

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes