interference from translators

Sometimes, even though you have FCC authority for your operations, you can still run into issues that can cause you to have that authority pulled out from under your operations. In three cases decided this week, the FCC’s Audio Division interpreted a number of its procedural rules – in two cases leading to the cancellation of FM translator licenses and the silencing of operating translator stations. In one case, the FCC decided that a licensed and operating FM translator had been licensed in error, as it actually created interference to an existing full-power FM station in a populated area, even though the translator application had initially claimed that it would not. In the second case, a translator was forced to cease operations because of interference from a new full-power station. When it did not resume operations within a one-year period, the FCC found that its license was automatically forfeited because of the year’s silence – even though the station had resumed operations in the construction period specified in a construction permit authorizing the translator to operate on a new frequency. These cases make clear how important the FCC’s procedural rules can be – actually leading to what are effectively life or death decisions for the license of a broadcast station.

In the first case, a translator licensee had a construction permit application granted to move to a new transmitter site. After the permit was granted, the licensee of a full-power station filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the grant, arguing that the translator would in fact create interference in populated areas served by its station. Despite the protest, the permittee constructed the translator at the new site, started operations and filed a license to cover the new construction – which was granted by the FCC. In reviewing the evidence filed by the petitioner, the FCC determined that there would in fact be interference caused to the full-power station in inhabited areas, contrary to what had been claimed in the translator’s CP application.  Based on that finding, the FCC revoked the license and underlying CP for the translator. The FCC made clear that a permittee who constructs a station when there is an objection to the underlying CP does so at its own risk. Where, as here, the underlying objection is found to have merit, the mere fact that the permittee had the right to build the station does not give him any grounds to argue that the station should be permitted to continue to operate – rejecting claims by the translator operator that, as there were no complaints of real interference caused by its operation, it should be permitted to continue to operate. Where the translator had prohibited contour overlap with the protected full-power station, and where it was shown that the area in which that overlap occurred was populated (shown by a USGS Topographic map that showed structures in the area), the operation was not permitted to continue.Continue Reading FCC Decisions Lead to Cancellation of Two FM Translator Licenses and Silencing of Operating Stations – Interference Issues and Time Limits on Being Off Air to Blame

The FCC this week ordered an FM translator in Detroit to shut down as it caused interference to the reception of a full-power FM station from Toledo.  The translator had been rebroadcasting the HD2 signal of another area station, in effect introducing a new analog station in the Detroit area, to bring back a smooth jazz format that had left the city a few years ago.  But the translator caused interference to the reception of the Toledo station in areas where the Toledo station was regularly used and, in the eyes of the FCC, the translator’s operator was able to provide no relief to the complaining listeners.  Thus, it was ordered off the air.  Translators are required to shut down if they create interference to the regularly used signal of a full-power station, even outside of that station’s protected contour.  This happens somewhat regularly, so that part of the FCC decision is not particularly unique.  What is unique was that the FCC rejected attempts to resolve the interference by giving the complaining listeners mobile phones capable of picking up the Toledo station’s programming through a mobile "app" on the phone. The case also chastised the translator licensee for posting the names of the complaining listeners on its website.

As we wrote in a recent post, Section 74.1203 of the FCC rules requires that a translator cease operations if it interferes with the regularly used signal of a full-power FM station.  Objectors need to show that there are specific listeners who regularly listen to a full-power station, and that the translator creates interference to the reception of that signal in areas where these listeners had heard the station before the translator started to operate.  In the past, to get rid of these objections, translator operators have purchased the listeners who complain filters for their radios, or even new radios or other devices to overcome the interference objections.  In this case, the translator licensee went further when such traditional methods did not resolve the interference.  The translator operator bought the objectors mobile phones with an iHeartRadio mobile app that could receive the primary station (a Clear Channel station).  The FCC rejected that solution, finding that a non-broadcast solution to broadcast interference imperiled broadcast service – "a free over-the-air system that is and must remain a vital source of news, information and programming for all Americans" (emphasis in the original).  Thus, the translator was required to sign off unless and until it could resolve all interference claims.  Given that the Toledo station had only provided objections from those who complained about interference inside of the station’s protected contour, the FCC said that it would anticipate that many more objections would be submitted if it accepted the mobile app solution, and that it was likely that it would have to look at all sorts of different solutions to those future objections.  The Commission ordered the translator station off the air, and suggested that it might be difficult for it to restart operations on its current channel, which was co-channel with the Toledo station.Continue Reading FM Translator for HD-2 Signal Shut Down By FCC After Interference Complaints – Can’t Remedy Complaint By Giving Phones With Internet App to Complaining Listeners

In recent years, FM translators have become more and more important to broadcasters, as they are being used to rebroadcast AM stations and HD-2 channels, giving the programming broadcast on these over-the-air signals new outlets in many markets.  However, there have been some bumps in the road to the introduction of these new outlets.  These bumps have arisen both from attempts to move these translators significant distances without observing all the obligations of FCC rules and policies, and in connection with translator stations that have started operations only to find that there were interference complaints from a broadcaster on an adjacent channel in some nearby market. So, while translator stations have provided many opportunities to broadcasters, those looking at translators to rebroadcast one of their signals should be aware of these potential pitfalls that have arisen in a few cases.

Perhaps the worst case involved an translator licensee in Florida, who was attempting to move translators from the Florida Keys into the Miami area.  Under current rules, an FM translator licensee can only move a translator from one location to another if the current coverage of the translator overlaps with the proposed coverage area of that station, unless the applicant waits for an infrequent translator window (the last was held in 2003) where the application can file a "major change" and would be subject to competing applications, .  Because of this requirement, it sometimes it takes multiple "hops" to move a translator from one location to another where someone might want to use it to rebroadcast an AM station or an HD-2 signal.  At each hop, the translator licensee must build the station, get it licensed, and then file to move to the next location until it is ultimately located at its desired location.  Each hop can take months to process by the FCC, to build and operate.  The recent case shows the problems that can arise in connection with these hops if an applicant attempts to cut corners.Continue Reading The Bumpy Road of Using FM Translators to Rebroadcast AM Stations or HD-2 Channels