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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Late last week, the FCC advanced a number of proposals on how it will deal with LPTV stations and TV translators after the incentive auction and the repacking of the TV spectrum into whatever channels are left after part of the TV band is repurposed for wireless uses.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking raises a number of issues, including the potential for delaying the mandatory digital transition for LPTV stations and translators that continue to operate in analog.  The FCC also suggested a post-auction window for LPTV and translator stations to file for displacement channels if there current operations are no longer possible after the repacking of the TV band.  It also addressed the potential for LPTVs on Channel 6 being able to transmit, post-digital transition, an analog audio channel so that “Franken FMs” (“radio stations” received on FM radio receivers on 87.7 that really are the audio portion of the LPTV’s programming), can continue. 

Comments on these proposals will be due 30 days after publication of the Notice in the Federal Register, with reply comments 15 days thereafter.  Presumably, as the incentive auction is fast approaching, as is the current deadline for mandatory September 1, 2015 digital conversion of these stations (which we wrote about here when the deadline was adopted), the FCC will act quickly on the proposals that have been made.  So just what are the proposals on which the FCC is asking for comment?
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The FCC denied reconsideration on the last phase of the digital television transition – requiring that all LPTV stations and TV translators cease analog operations and be operating digitally by September 1, 2015. See our summary of the original ruling on the digital conversion of LPTV and TV translator stations here. In denying reconsideration, the FCC determined that the September 1, 2015 date will hold – denying requests that the final decision be postponed while the FCC considers the repacking of the television band as part of the incentive auction process to clear part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. The FCC also noted that some parties wanted to keep operating in an analog mode on TV channel 6, as the audio can be received by FM receivers (so-called "Franken FMs"). The Commission determined that using Channel 6 to provide an audio service this was not a sufficient reason to keep analog operations on TV channels alive past the deadline that they have established. (See our articles about these hybrid LPTV/FM stations, which take advantage of the fact that Channel 6 is adjacent to the FM band and that analog TV used an FM audio system, here).

The Commission did note that, in response to some petitions for reconsideration, that any LPTV station or translator moving to Channel 6 for digital operations be required to protect noncommercial FM stations that would be operating on adjacent frequencies. While the Commission does not expect that such interference will occur frequently, they made clear that LPTV and TV translators are secondary services, and they cannot continue to operate if they cause interference to primary services, including primary noncommercial FM stations.


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