FM translators

FM translators used to be a very minor part of the radio business. Following several FCC decisions, they have become really huge, and the directory has to deal with them.

There are five normal uses for an FM translator

– filling coverage gaps for a commercial FM station (West Virginia?)
– allowing non-commercial FM stations to have coverage beyond their main station
– allowing satellite broadcasters to have a national network
– rebroadcast of HD2/3/4 channels not heard on analog radios
– rebroadcast of AM station on FM to “save AM radio”

There are 6,665 translators currently. 1,384 are in the 5th category – about 1/3 of all AM stations.

All translators are simulcasts, but not all simulcasts use translators. An owner can put the same programming on two or more fullly licensed stations AM/FM or multiple FM

For volunteers, I incorporated the lists of translators and simulcasts into the “needs review” list. Sometimes, but not always the frequency of the translator or simulcast(s) appear on the main station. With links directly to the other stations, you can verify the simulcast at the same time without having to deal with groups of unrelated transmitters.

On the other hand, if there is a simulcast listed, but that frequency is not listed, that could be a strong indication the simulcast ended and further research is necessary.

For example


This station is an AM radio station in Las Vegas NV on 1100 kHz. According to the FCC, it has a translator on FM at 100.9. If you look at the screenshot carefully, you can see the translator is listed.


Many times, the translator or simulcast is only shown in a graphic, so can’t be connected automatically. In this case it is clear, so you can click through to the translator and mark it is complete and get a “two for one”

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12 Responses to FM translators

  1. I love when a 5,000-watt AMer renames itself “Talk 93.9” or whatever when it simulcasts on a 10-watt translator.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      That is extremely common. Sometimes they don’t even list the AM frequency in tiny print. Another thing some do is “brand” the FM translator as if it is a real FM license WAAX-AM has W123xz as a translator and calls itself WAAX-FM. They might get away with that as long as their top of the hour Legal IDs are accurate, but eventually the FCC is going to have to tap people on the shoulder.

      My original hunch seems to be correct – there is movement afoot to allow these Saving AM translators to just power down the AM station and turn in the license in exchange for giving the FM translator primary status and maybe a power increase. It’s hard to anticipate what the next FCC will do

  2. Fred Stiening says:

    For 10 bonus points, what is unique about this station?

    • Assuming it’s a U.S. station, the FM is in the noncomm part of the band. Is that the uniqueness?

      • Fred Stiening says:

        You’re getting warm 😉 What is the lowest frequency in the FM band?

        • 88.1 is the lowest licensed FM frequency, so 87.7 is probably Channel 6 TV audio then?

          • Fred Stiening says:

            There is one licensed FM station on 87.9 in California.

            There are a few oddball “stations” that are the audio of channel 6, but they went away when we converted to digital TV – but some low Power Analog TV stations were allowed to linger on. I think the FCC finally pulled the plug on them, but I’m not positive of that.

          • Fred Stiening says:

            More details about the oddball station on 87.9


            It is a high school station that is currently silent. I forget the details, but it was a really ugly situation. It is a 10 watt class D station. Class D stations have no standing in the pecking order of licensing. A few years ago, religious broadcasters were challenging licenses like this, claiming (probably accurately) that high school stations were not meeting their 35 hour a week obligation when school was in session. I think the FCC yanked the license and awarded a new license, but then lost in court or a politician intervened. There was no available frequency and if they revoked the new license, they would get sued again. There is no Channel 6 to worry about interference, so that’s how the FCC got out of the mess.

  3. Fred Stiening says:

    Conversely if you see an FM frequency on the web site without a known translator or simulcast, that is worth investigating, or at least adding a comment to bring it to my attention

  4. Fred Stiening says:

    As I’m going through them, there is one major owner who has completely ignored the once in a lifetime giveaway from moving FM translators to join AM stations. Cumulus.

    Are they cash strapped or does the CEO with no radio experience not understand the gift they were being offered? Probably both, but mostly the latter.

    Clear Channel / iHeart Media is building out HDx fed FM translators as fast as they can throw them together.

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