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.