Godcasters Making a Mint by Trafficking in Free Low-Power Radio Licenses

Last year I was tracking the apparent trafficking in low-power FM translator stations by several Christian broadcasting groups. Translators are stations whose only legal purpose is to rebroadcast the programming of a full-power parent station.

John at DIYmedia has an update on the traffickers and their spoils from laundering licenses that come free-of-charge from the FCC:

Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting (which are actually one and the same) filed more than 4,000 FM translator construction permit applications during a 2003 FCC filing window for new FM translator stations. In less than two years RAM/EB booked more than $800,000 in revenue by selling batches of translator construction permits to evangelistic mega-churches in the South and West (although a host of smaller transactions also took place).

These churches, in effect, bought permission to build state-wide or regional networks through speculators who snapped up the permits en masse, just for this very purpose.

Now, RAM/EB is billing well into the seven figures after booking several new deals with its biggest clients.

Last March John was on the radioshow to discuss his research on the godcasters’ translator trafficking. That same month I talked to Harold Feld from the Media Access Project who discussed his group’s petition to the FCC on the issue.

John also contributed an in-depth article on TranslatorGate to mediageek zine #3, which is available for purchase online for just $3.50.

Finally, here are some earlier posts from DIYmedia and mediageek to fill in some of the backstory:


4 responses to “Godcasters Making a Mint by Trafficking in Free Low-Power Radio Licenses”

  1. George Avatar

    This touches on a pet subject of mine. One of the goals of LPFM was to improve the diversity of radio ownership. To offer an alternative to the consolidating commercial broadcast companies like Clear Channel. To do so in a way that would be affordable for most people. And to do so in a non-commercial way, preventing companies like Clear Channel from getting involved.

    Unfortunately, what it has done is open the door for religious broadcasters to buy up these frequencies, not for free discussion or community service, but for their ministry. In fact, the vast majority of LPFM licenses are owned by religious groups, not community groups or educational institutions. And we’re not just talking about translators, but the parent stations.

    This is a perversion of the intent of LPFM. Part of it has to do with the fact that religious broadcasters are more passionate, better organized, and better financed than community or educational groups. But it demonstrates my view that just making radio frequencies available won’t necessarily lead to more democracy or free flow of ideas.

    I have no problem with those who seek to use the radio waves for ministry. In their view, the airwaves don’t belong to man, but God. But these groups have no more interest in diversity of opinion or community discussion than the corporations who are currently being attacked for shutting down newsrooms or firing staffs. Yet no one wants to restrict religion, so no one is talking about laws on religious broadcasters. But perhaps it’s time for free speech advocates to apply the same laws to them that are being applied to the commercial folks.

  2. philipgoetz Avatar

    LPFM question in general… Here’s what I don’t get: Stations were restricted to the 3rd adjacent frequency. This meant that only one frequency was available among the top 50 markets. The Mitre study was released in May 2003. This report said that 3rd adjacent frequencies did not cause interference. How does that mean that 2nd adjacent stations should now be allowed? In Austin, in 2000 that would have changed the number of potential LPFM stations from 2 to 16. I don’t understand how 3rd adjacent channels not being an interference problem means 2nd adjacent will not be either.

  3. […] Walt Disney co. currently resides in 5th place among the big media company revenues—well behind Newscorp (Fox), CBS, and NBC. This means that Disney 1) cannot afford to loose revenues, and 2) needs to expands its market share. This takes us to our old friends at the FCC. Regardless of whether or not the Democrats regain the congress in the fall, the FCC board will continue to be dominated by highly partisan Republican members. With the recent major increase in indecency fines, ABC an ill afford any major judgements against them. Other networks have recently criticized the FCC for ignoring ABC’s violations while fining them. Aside from owning the ABC network, Disney owns and operates 71 radio stations and 10 television stations. The FCC recently announced that it will re-open the issue if expanding media ownership limitations. Something which could greatly benefit Disney’s need to expand. Finally, there is the little known or discussed issue of translator stations. Translators allow for radio station – usually non-profit – to expand geographic footprints without the local licensing burdens of opening or re-licensing a new station. In 1990 the FCC amended the FM translator service rules. One big change allowed non-commercial broadcasters to operate translator stations independent of any parent station.Translators are not required to provide locally produced programming, and are actually limited by law from doing so. Translator stations have become the primary mode of expansion for Christian broadcasters. ABC and other commercial radio owners have recently expressed interest in unbundling translators from parent stations – this would require the acquiescence of the religious broadcasters. […]

  4. […] In its public notice [PDF] the FCC acknowledges that most of the more than 10,000 commenters advocated the limit of 10 applications. Furthermore the Commission accepted the reasoning that allowing more than 10 applications would greatly increase the likelihood of license speculation of the type seen with non-commercial translator stations airing Christian satellite network programming. […]

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