Displacement Relief for FM Translators?


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The National Translator Association (NTA) has petitioned the FCC to amend the FM translator rules to permit an FM translator displaced from its current operating channel by a new or modified full-power FM station to immediately apply to move to any available FM channel. Currently, displaced translators must wait for the next FM translator application filing window to file the application.

FM translator stations, which generally operate at much lower power than full-power FM stations, are licensed by the FCC as secondary to full-power FM stations. When a new full-power FM station commences broadcasting or an existing full-power FM station modifies its coverage, existing FM translators causing interference to the new or modified full-power stations must immediately cease broadcasting and are displaced from their current operating channels. FM translators receiving interference from new or modified full-power FM stations are similarly displaced as their signals can no longer be heard.

Under the existing FM translator rules, a displaced FM translator may immediately apply to move only to adjacent channels, none of which may be available. Before the displaced FM translator can move to a non-adjacent available channel, it must cease broadcasting and wait several years for the FCC to open an FM translator modification application filing window and then process and grant the numerous applications filed during the window. Commercial translator applicants may have to go to auction to secure a replacement frequency. Meanwhile, the public loses the broadcast service being provided by the FM translator.

The NTA last fall asked the FCC to change its rules to help existing FM translators in this situation. In particular, the NTA proposed that existing FM translators forced to cease operating because they are causing or receiving interference should be permitted to immediately apply to move to any available FM channel. The NTA's proposal would afford the same opportunity for permittees of authorized but unbuilt FM translators precluded from commencing operations because they are expected to cause or receive interference. The NTA also asked that applicants for new FM translators expected to cause or receive interference be permitted to immediately amend their applications to propose available non-adjacent FM channels. In June, the FCC requested comments regarding the NTA's request. Comments filed in response supported the NTA.

Whether and when the FCC may move on to actually propose and adopt rule amendments to assist displaced FM translators remains to be seen. The problem is likely to become more aggravated in the near term, as more FM translators are likely to be displaced when the FCC auctions new FM channels and authorizes new full-power FM stations to operate on the channels. The current rules provide virtually no relief to affected translator licensees and permittees. While they are entitled to file displacement applications, they cannot do so until a new filing window for such applications opens. It may be years before the FCC opens its next FM translator modification application filing window. The last such window opened in March 2003, and in the intervening 16 months the FCC has still processed only a relatively small number of the thousands of applications filed in that window. None of the mutually exclusive applications have been processed.

Recent FCC fines

A Florida AM station was fined $1,000 for not having a fence after the station's general manager told the FCC inspector they could get closer to the tower by avoiding the main gate and walking around to the side that had no fence. Another Florida AM station was fined $7,000 for not having its gate locked. An Arkansas AM was fined $4,400 for having numerous openings in its fence; the FCC was not impressed with the station's argument that a no trespassing sign served the same purpose.

Dateline:

Oct. 1 is the deadline for radio stations in Iowa and Missouri to file their renewal applications, ownership reports and EEO program reports. Oct. 1 also is the date radio stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements. Issues/programs lists for the third quarter must be placed in all radio station public files by Oct. 10.


Martin is president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of the firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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