In an Order released earlier this week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau imposed a $12,000 fine on the licensee of an FM translator in California because FCC inspections revealed that the translator was operating above its licensed power. The FCC found that the station was operating with a Transmitter Power Output of 7.5 watts, yielding an Effective Radiated Power of 33.7 watts, when the station was only licensed for .005 watts TPO and 10 watts ERP. While the licensee argued that the higher transmitter power output was necessary to achieve its authorized ERP, the FCC rejected that argument as a translator’s TPO is specifically set by its license and limited under the FCC’s rules, and to exceed the authorized TPO requires the grant of a construction permit or, at the very least, grant of an STA – neither of which had been sought by the licensee.

With so many new translators coming on the air, it is important for operators to remember to limit TPO to what is specified in a license. The power output cannot exceed 105% of what is authorized on the license (See Section 74.1235(e) of the FCC Rules). Full-power non-directional FM stations, on the other hand, can generally change TPO and transmission line without prior FCC approval as long as the change does not result in changes to authorized ERP (and even some ERP changes are permitted without a construction permit application – see Section 73.1690 for details), with the licensee only having to file an application for license on Form 302 after the changes have been made. But translators need approval to change TPO before it is done. Given the scrutiny now being placed on FM interference (see our article here about the FCC’s current proceeding to determine how to resolve complaints about translator interference), and the size of the fine issued in this case, translator operators should be sure that they know the rules and review their operations to make sure that these operations comply with the rules.