Archive for the ‘FM Translators’ Category

1,000 new FM “stations” to save AM

Friday, August 11th, 2017

The FCC gave AM stations an opportunity to request an FM translator without requiring them to buy an existing license. Around 1,000 licenses have been applied for.

Here is The List

When this process is complete, most AM stations will be heard on FM unless either the AM station is derelict or is located in a big city where no FM frequency is available.

Quinn & Rose back together again, almost

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

WAVL-AM in Apollo PA (Population 1,647) took advantage of the FCC Saving AM radio project and added an FM translator and did the opposite of most similar stations. They are switching from music to talk.

Quinn’s one man act is on from 6-9 AM, followed by the indomitable Rose Unplugged for an hour. She has been heard on the WPGP-AM in Pittsburgh, the former home of Mickey Mouse radio.

Quinn is on WCNS-AM (same owner) in Latrobe (former home of Rolling Rock Beer – population 8,338). Acceding to Quinn’s aspirations to pay for his Corvette from subscriber fees, the two stations do not stream.

WSYL-AM in New York appears to have dropped Quinn. Between Apollo and Latrobe, Quinn has a potential audience of about 100 listeners. At $5 CPM, an advertisement should cost about $.50, conservatively speaking.

Behold the Talk Radio “Metro” station

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Behold K283CC – started this week in Des Moines, Iowa, operated by Saga Communications, which has been very aggressive in creating “metro” FM translators. Few people listen to the sub channels on digital HD radio (HD2/3/4), but by saying you intend to retransmit an HD channel using an analog FM translator, you essentially create a new FM station for the cost of an FM translator license. As a bonus, the new FM translator doesn’t count against the per market ownership caps. In theory, that could mean one owner having 15 or more FM stations in a market.

The down side is FM translators are limited to 250 watts, but if you mount it up very high in the air, that can cover most of a major city. I like to call them Low Power commercial FM stations, mirroring the NAB’s fight against the LPFM non- profits cluttering up “their band”

K283CC coverage map (250 watts)
KAZR FM Analog map (100,000 watts)

You can see that 250 watts is almost as good as 100,000 unless your target demographic is corn plants growing in the sun making ethanol,

This is the first metro station I remember running a conventional conservative talk format.

Saving AM Radio – Part 2

Monday, August 1st, 2016

One part of the FCC strategy to “save” AM radio is to allow each AM station a once in a lifetime chance to move an existing FM translator up to 250 miles. An FM translator is a device that takes a radio signal and rebroadcasts it on an alternate frequency, or in this case, a different radio band. FM translators are limited by rule to 250 watts, may not originate its own programming and for this type of translator must generally live inside the protected contour of the AM station. For pre-1986 AM stations that must go off the air completely at sunset, the FM Translator can stay on all night while the AM station is silent. This could be important to small town America, except most AM stations have no humans working at 2 AM.

The first round of AM stations allowed to acquire and move were class C and class D stations, the small stations you find in rural America that reach maybe 5 or 10 miles. There are currently 8,908 licensed FM translators, which were originally intended to rebroadcast FM stations, and since the George W Bush administration rebroadcast religious programming delivered by satellite.

With the initial change in policy a few years ago, and the change this year encouraging AM stations to broadcast on FM in order to “Save” AM radio, there are 1,819 AM stations rebroadcasting on FM using a low powered translator. It has been true for a long time that a full power FM station can rebroadcast the programming of an AM station. In a situation like that, adding an FM Translator would free up the FM station to do something else. FM translators do not count against ownership limits in a market.

What is changing today is that class A (50 kW clear channel) and Class B regional stations now can add an FM translator by moving a translator up to 250 miles. The going price to acquire an FM translator license is around $15,000. The hard part is finding an available FM frequency in major markets that won’t interfere with an existing FM station. In theory, this could mean stations like WABC or WOR in New York could start broadcasting on FM, but that would require an existing FM station to move or agree that they don’t care about interference.

There are currently 4,671 licensed AM radio stations, so close to half already have an FM translator. There are 73 Class A and 1,752 Class B stations that are eligible today to buy and/or move an existing FM translator license. Once this once in a lifetime move happens, that FM translator is locked to that AM station for 3 years.

If you think it odd that the way to save AM radio by moving it to FM is illogical, you are not alone.

“Saving” AM radio status

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Last Friday was the Day 1 for AM station license holders to apply to add an FM Translator (“FX” in FCC jargon) to rebroadcast AM stations on the FM band at up to 250 watts – that will reach perhaps 15 miles depending on terrain and the height of the antenna,

Because of the low power and expectations, FX doesn’t require a big tower and FAA approval or “land use” nazi approval. A new FM translator costs less than $5000 and the antenna can be mounted on a pole on the roof. Especially for AM stations that have to turn off the transmitter at sunset or turn the power down to 4 watts, having their signal on FM at night is a lifesaver, especially during winter when sunset occurs before the evening rush hour in parts of the country.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (R) was the main advocate for Friday’s change and declared it a success, with “almost” 1 in 10 AM stations applying for an FX license.

Now for a little context about the success story. FX for AM stations is not new. It was authorized about three years ago by the prior FCC Chairman. There is a glut of unused FX licenses released last year after the FCC ended their 10 year old block on processing FX applications.

As of today, there are 4,679 licensed AM stations in the United States. Of those, 1,089 already have a functioning FX translator in operation – that’s a little under one in 4. About 700 AM stations are either officially silent or “Vewy quiet” (my designation that I doubt they are functioning) or have no presence on the Internet.

So as of last Thursday, there were about 2,800 functioning AM stations without an FM translator. The biggest obstacle is the AM station needs to be in a city that has a “free” FM frequency above 92 MHz – few major cities have any. Because FX has a smaller footprint, a few may be squeezed in between existing FM stations with paying for engineering work to make sure it won’t interfere with existing FM stations. Most however will be in rural flyover country.

What changed on Friday was permission to move an existing FX license (probably currently unused) up to 250 miles as long as there is an open frequency, the AM station commits to operating it for 4 years and it meets the other technical requirements.

How many FX licenses are there to buy?

| count(*) | licstatus |
|       20 | -         |
|      874 | APP       |
|     1978 | CP        |
|     6311 | LIC       |
|        1 | PRO       |
|       32 | SOP       |

APP = Application received – the FCC awarded a license but has not yet approved the proposed transmitter location
CP = Construction Permit – FCC has authorized the FX to be built. The owner has three years to get on the air. Since installing an FX is inexpensive and takes only a few days, it is safe to assume most of those will never be built as proposed – they are held by speculators
LIC = Licensed and operating – the 5,300 that are not already in use on AM are being used for their original purpose (filling in coverage gaps in hilly areas or non commercial operations like Public Radio or religious broadcasters) or rebroadcasting FM HD 2/3 channels, a recent and rapidly growing option for major radio operators to create new FM stations beyond their existing ownership limits.

The fairly obvious question with a fairly obvious answer – if the objective is to save AM radio, why didn’t the FCC just offer new FX licenses for free to qualifying AM stations, rather than creating a windfall for speculators who never had an intent to actually run a radio station?

One week until the FM translator for AM land rush

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

January 29th, 2016 is the starting date for small town (Class C and Class D) AM stations to apply for the once in a lifetime opportunity to move (acquire) an existing FM translator from up to 250 miles away.

This is part of the “saving AM radio” initiative. By allowing an AM station to have a 250 watt FM simulcast that can reach up to 10 or 15 miles, the AM station may become economically viable. Also, for pre 1986 AM stations that have to turn off the transmitter at sunset, they will have 24/7 coverage. The FM translator has a similar range for class C and D stations, so it isn’t hard to see this as a way to eventually ease the stations over to FM and tear down the AM towers and sell off the land

It is worth asking why the FCC just doesn’t issue brand new FX translator licenses rather than creating a windfall for religious broadcasters to sell off their unbuilt licenses for 30 pieces of silver.

Let the AM Translating begin!

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

The FCC announced the starting gun for AM Class C and D (small) AM stations to acquire an FM translator will fire at midnight on January 29th. There are a few rules – the existing FM translator has to be within 250 miles of the AM station. The next rule is there has to be an available FM frequency. This is a one chance application. If you get approved and the seller backs out, you’re done. If the FCC rejects the application, you’re out of luck. If two stations file for the same frequency on the same day, the FCC will assist in resolving the problem.

While WABC-AM is not eligible until the second round starting in July, the FCC built tools to help stations navigate the data. There are 777 FM translators that WABC could buy
777 sounds lucky

There are only 3 possible frequencies, and they will require a waiver from an existing FM station to be compliant. The Translator must still meet the requirement that it broadcasts within the existing AM station’s daytime broadcast area.

Once assigned, the translator is married to that AM station for the next four years. No more hanky panky after that, unless of course the rules change again.


Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

The FCC has stepped in to solve a non-problem.

As of today, there are 1,060 FM translators already retransmitting AM radio stations. The religious broadcasters seem more than willing to sell out Jesus for a few silver coins. Consider that there are only 4,682 licensed radio stations – almost one in four AM stations already have an FM translator. There are 6,120 FM translators currently licensed.

An FM translator should not be confused with an FM Repeater. A station owner – often a Public Broadcaster – will simulcast programming statewide on a number of full license FM stations. In theory, the stations could have any non-commercial programming they want. By making them a “Repeater”, that does away with the requirement that each station have an office and on-duty staff during business hours.

An FM repeater is a low power (up to 250 watts) transmitter legally locked to one specific radio station, within the existing main station’s protected area. Non-commercial FM translators do not have the same stringent rule – they can be out in underserved areas and fed by satellite or internet connections. There is no rule barring a non-commercial FM translator licensed for no reason – then being sold to a commercial operator and moved to become a legal commercial FM translator to an existing AM or FM station (Possibly fed by an unused HD 2/3/4 channel). Small translators are going for about $15,000 each. Multiply that by 6000, and you have a windfall for people who knew how to play the system.

Welcome to Radio v2.0. Change is coming very fast.