Channel 6 interference to FM radio

The audio from analog channel 6 TV stations can be heard on the FM dial at 87.7 – which is below the lowest official point on the standard FM band in the US (which ends at 88.1) but is nevertheless tunable on most FM radios. Over the last decade, many LPTV stations on channel 6, in markets where they had no other viable business model, turned to providing FM service through these stations. The FCC has for years inquired if these operations, often referred to as Franken FMs, should be permitted (see our articles here and here) but has never moved to stop it. Now, with the 2021 deadline for the conversion of LPTV stations to digital operation, LPTV operators have asked the FCC to bless the post-conversion operation of an analog audio signal embedded in the digital Channel 6 LPTV station transmissions so that these FM broadcast can continue, following up on a proceeding begun in 2014 (see our article here). This week, the FCC issued a Public Notice asking for additional comments as to whether these Franken FM operations should be allowed to continue, and if so what rules should govern them.

The release of this Public Notice came as somewhat of a surprise, as a similar question had recently been asked in an FCC proceeding looking primarily at LPFM rule changes, but also addressing issues about the relation of TV channel 6 to FM broadcasters (see our article here on that proceeding). In this week’s Public Notice, the FCC suggests that the LPFM proceeding is asking only whether the elimination of protections between channel 6 TV stations and noncommercial radio stations in the reserved band, as proposed in that proceeding, is compatible with the continued operation of these Franken FMs after the digital conversion deadline. It is the proceeding in which these additional comments are now being requested that will address how these stations will be regulated on a permanent basis in the future. To determine that future, this week’s Public Notice poses many specific questions about the continued operation of these Franken FMs.
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October is one of the busiest months on the broadcaster’s regulatory calendar. On October 1, EEO Public Inspection file reports are due in the online public file of stations that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. An employment unit is one or more commonly controlled stations in the same geographic area that share at least one employee.

October 1 is also the deadline for license renewal filings by radio stations (including FM translators and LPFM stations) in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. On the 1st and 16th of the month, stations in those states, and in North and South Carolina, need to run post-filing announcements on the air informing listeners about the filing of their license renewal applications. Pre-filing announcements about the upcoming filing of license renewal applications by radio stations in Alabama and Georgia also are to run on the 1st and 16th. See our post here on the FCC’s reminder about the pre- and post-filing announcements.
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The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on LPFM and Channel 6 TV issues, which we wrote about here, was published in the Federal Register today. This sets the deadline for comments in this proceeding as October 21, 2019, with reply comments due by November 4. This proceeding looks at issues

Last week, the FCC started a new proceeding through the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to review several restrictions that currently apply to Low Power FM stations.  While doing so, it will also review the current rules, dating from the analog television days, restricting certain FM operations in the non-commercial reserved band of the FM dial where those operations are near Channel 6 TV stations.  Comments will be due on this proposal 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, with Replies due 15 days later.

The LPFM proposals look at a number of issues.  The Commission asks if LPFM stations should be allowed to operate with directional antennas, which are currently routinely barred given that these antennas may be more difficult to operate and maintain.  When the rules were originally adopted, there was a fear that LPFM licensees, who may not have a technical background or substantial resources for engineering support, could not maintain those antennas so as to protect other FM stations operating on the same and adjacent channels.  Similar concerns currently limit LPFM stations from using on-channel boosters to fill in holes in their service area.  The FCC asks if these prohibitions can be lifted as the LPFM industry has become more mature, allowing LPFMs to use both directional antennas and on-channel boosters without risking increased interference to other stations.
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Once upon a time, August was a quiet month in Washington, when everyone went on vacation. Sure, there are plenty of vacations that will happen this coming month, but it seems that regulatory activity no longer takes a break. For example, August 1 is the due date for the filing with the FCC of license renewals for all radio stations (including translators and LPFM stations) in North and South Carolina, and the filing of associated EEO forms for all full power radio stations in those states. With the renewal filing comes the obligation that these stations start airing, on August 1 and August 16, their post-filing announcements informing the public about the submission of the license renewal applications. Radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, who filed their renewals on or before June 2, also need to keep running their post-filing announcements on these same dates. Radio stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, who are in the next license renewal group with their renewal applications to be filed by October 1, need to start broadcasting their pre-filing announcements this month, also to run on the 1st and 16th of the month. See our post here on pre-filing announcements.

Commercial and noncommercial full power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM radio stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin that are part of an employment unit with five or more full-time employees must place their annual EEO public inspection file reports in their online public file. Links to those reports should also be placed on the home pages of these station’s websites, if they have a website. The effectiveness of these EEO public file reports, and the EEO programs of which they are a part, are being reviewed by the FCC in a proceeding started by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking about which we wrote here. Comments on this notice asking for suggestions about how to make the EEO rules more effective are due August 21, with reply comments due by September 5.
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The deadlines for the digital conversion of LPTV stations, TV translators and Class A TV stations were announced on Friday, in an Order where the FCC also provided some indication of their expected timetable for the reclamation of some of the television spectrum for broadband use – and that expectation is nowhere near as aggressive as originally announced two years ago in the FCC’s Broadband Report. The digital conversion of LPTV and translator stations will happen by September 1, 2015.  The FCC also ordered an earlier December 31, 2011 deadline for the digital conversion and clearing of the reclaimed spectrum by those stations still operating in parts of the  former television band (Channels 52 through 69) that have already been reclaimed and mostly auctioned for wireless uses. The digital conversion of Class A stations and other operational issues were also discussed in the order.  The details of the order may also reveal the Commission’s thinking on the proposed reclamation of other portions of the TV spectrum for broadband use, and of the use of Channels 5 and 6 for radio.  Details on the deadlines and other actions by the FCC in this order are set out below. 

Conversion Deadline and Process for Stations in Core TV Band

LPTV, translator and Class A stations (referred to in the rest of this article simply as "LPTV stations" except with respect to the specific Class A rules discussed below) will have a hard deadline for digital conversion of September 1, 2015.  As of that date, all analog television operations in the US will cease.  If LPTV stations do not already have a construction permit authorizing digital operations, they must file for such a permit by May 1, 2015. All existing construction permits for a digital flash-cut on the LPTV station’s current channel are automatically extended by this Order until the September 15, 2015 deadline. This does not extend outstanding construction permits for digital companion channels. Extensions of those permits must be requested by the permittee. 


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A controversy has bubbled up in connection with the FCC proceeding to set the date by which Low Power Television stations will be required to convert to digital operations.  While the analog operations of full-power TV stations were mandatorily terminated in 2009, Low Power television stations and TV translators have not yet faced any end date for their analog operations – though the FCC recently suggested that the final date for analog broadcasting by these stations be set – perhaps as soon as next year.  In comments filed in the proceeding to set the end date, the question of when to terminate analog broadcasting became tangled in another issue – whether Channel 6 LPTV stations should be allowed to continue to be used to broadcast FM programming.  NPR suggested that the practice be terminated now, while Channel 6 licensees argued that this use was perfectly permissible under FCC rules, and that it provides a public interest benefit that should be preserved.

Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band.  Analog television stations used an audio transmission standard that was very similar to that used by FM stations, and the audio from analog Channel 6 stations could be picked up by FM radio receivers. In many major television markets across the country, LPTV operators have taken their stations, optimized the audio for FM reception, and started broadcasts intended to be treated like radio stations – programming music or talk like a radio station, with the video programming being secondary to the audio output.  Some have called these "Franken FMs", and many listeners don’t even realize that they are listening to a station licensed for video operation – just assuming that radio on 87.7 or 87.9 is a normal extension of the FM band.  But this proceeding to end analog television broadcasting has brought the issue to the forefront.


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The FCC today issued a long-awaited public notice, clarifying the relationship between FM educational stations and the analog Channel 6 TV stations that have or will be disappearing after the digital transition.  As we’ve written before, the question of whether noncommercial FM stations could seek improvements in their facilities based on the imminent disappearance