TV channel 6 used for 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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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 Thursday, the possibility of more Low Power FM (LPFM) stations came a step closer, as a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill (the text of which is here) which would remove existing Congressional restrictions on the FCC adopting rules to ignore potential interference from new LPFM stations to full power FMs operating on third-adjacent channels.  With this committee approval coming at the same time as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of a bill that would authorize a sound recording performance royalty on radio broadcasters’ over-the-air programming, this was not a good day legislatively for traditional broadcasters.  But it certainly could have been worse, as the LPFM bill does contain new provisions that would serve to extend some protection to existing broadcasters from interference from new LPFM stations.  Perhaps because of these new protections, the committee action was unanimous.

 The new protections built into the bill include the following:

  • Protection for third-adjacent channel full-power FM stations providing reading services for the blind
  • Providing protection for FM translator input signals from interference from new LPFM stations
  • For a year after a new LPFM goes on the air, it must broadcast notices that any listener who experiences interference to another FM station or FM translator from this new LPFM should report that interference to the LPFM station.  In the event that interference is reported:
    • The LPFM must notify the FCC and the third-adjacent channel station that is getting interference
    • The LPFM station must address the interference that arises
    • The FCC is charged with looking for ways to assist the LPFM in remediating interference, including allowing co-location of the LPFM at the same tower site as the FM station or FM translator to which interference is being caused
    • The FCC will investigate allegations of interference from an FM broadcaster or FM translator, no matter how far that interference is from the station, and even if the interference is to mobile reception

The bill does not say, however, what happens if the interference is not remediated.  Under current FCC rules for the FM translator service, a new translator must sign off if interference to existing stations cannot be resolved.  The bill does not specify that remedy for LPFM.  This issue remains to be resolved if the bill eventually passes Congress.


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Reading the papers and watching the news this weekend, one would think that analog television is a relic of the past – something that we can all soon look back at fondly as a quaint childhood memory, never to be seen again.  Yet all the reports fail to mention that for populations that watch their over-the-air television from TV translators or Low Power TV stations, analog television is still very much a reality, and in some places will be for years until the FCC sets a deadline for the digital conversion of these stations. Many of these stations operate in rural areas or serve minority or other specialized audiences, perhaps explaining the lack of coverage in the mainstream media.  But, given all the publicity that has been accorded to the "completion" of the conversion, some of these populations may well have been confused by the process.  We’ve writtenabout this issue and how it could have created confusion in smaller markets which have service by both full-power and low power TV stations, here.

The transition of LPTV to digital raises a number of issues – including the ability of these stations to deliver radio-type programming when operating on Channel 6.  As we’ve written, LPTV stations on Channel 6 have been used to provide radio services, as Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band and can be picked up on most radio receivers..  However, when the ultimate transition of LPTV to digital is completed, the ability of these stations to provide a radio-type service will probably disappear, as the audio system used by digital television will not be picked up by analog radio receivers. 


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