translators for HD radio

Many of the thousands of FM translators that have been pending since 2003 may be approaching the finish line to be granted very soon. The FCC has issued a Public Notice announcing that over 700 applications are now ready to be granted. The applications that are identified on the list are "singletons", or applications that are not mutually exclusive with any other application.  Applicants who find their applications on the list need only file a "long-form" application on FCC Form 349 by March 28. A long form application provides full technical information about the applicant’s proposal, as well as some ownership information about the applicant. FCC officials have stated that, as long as the long-form application does not change the technical proposals set forth in the short-form applications submitted in 2003, the long form should be granted. Instructions for additional showings that need to be made if changes are made are available here

So what’s next for the 2003 applicants, and what opportunities are there for other radio broadcasters? The clear opportunity for broadcasters is that there are soon going to be about 700 new translators, with many more to come after the settlement window and auction. All of these applications were filed 10 years ago, some of them by parties whose interests may well have changed in that prolonged period of waiting. So there are bound to be at least some translators that will be granted and available for sale or some sort of programming arrangement. Once these 700 translators applications and the other applications from the 2003 window are processed, there will be no other new translators that are possible until the next time the FCC opens a translator filing window – which won’t happen for at least a year (and quite possibly well after that), until after the FCC first holds the promised LPFM window later this year (with an October target date) and processes the applications from that window. So now is the time for broadcasters to be reviewing the translator applications that are being granted from the 2003 window to see if there may be opportunities for the broadcaster to find a facility to retransmit an AM station or an HD-2 signal. Continue Reading FM Translator Processing Continues as FCC identifies Over 700 Applications that Can Be Granted – What’s Next for Translator Applicants? What Should Broadcasters Be Considering?

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