Translators Now Constitute the Largest Number of U.S. Radio Stations

Revisiting a subject from three years ago: the health of U.S. radio by the FCC’s broadcast station totals. Published quarterly, these figures over time show the relative growth of station-classes, and trends especially over the last couple of years are quite eye-opening.

What sparked my interest was a celebratory missive from FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake released last week. Having completed two filing-windows this year allowing AM radio stations to acquire FM translators, Lake says they’ve been a “resounding success” – nearly 1,100 translators changed hands, and the FCC has already signed off on the vast majority of these deals.

FCC Broadcast Station Totals, 1992-2016

The chart above tells the tale, tracking station-counts over the last 25 years. As of this year, FM translator and booster stations now comprise the largest segment of licensed radio stations in the country, both in raw numbers and percentage. Read More

FCC to WIN: You’re Not News, Get Over It

Sad but true: last Friday, the FCC finally responded to my appeal of its denial of my Freedom of Information Act request involving a case in which the agency declared Workers Independent News to not be news.

The dismissal was fairly perfunctory. What I was primarily asking for was the other 5,600+ pages of documentation the agency collected regarding correspondence (both internal and external) and deliberations on the WLS/WIN case (it only released 88 heavily-redacted pages). My primary objective was to discover the identity of the complainant who kicked off this sordid saga, as well as the identities of FCC staff who took the complaint and turned it into libel by official writ. Never before in the history of U.S. broadcast regulation has the FCC made a content determination on the legitimacy of a news organization. Read More

Thanks to Translator-Mongering, AM Broadcasters Now Openly Advocating Band’s Abandonment

It’s still more than two months away, but in late November Americans will sit down with their families/friends and gorge themselves on food, then satedly lounge around giving thanks for their bounty. The U.S. radio industry’s going through that process presently, having spent most of the year scarfing up and then trading around FM translator stations.

In quick summary: FM translators are a class of radio station limited to a broadcast power of 250 watts but unlimited in antenna height (the key factor for good FM coverage). They are considered secondary services, in that they must rebroadcast another radio station. For decades, translators have been used as stand-in broadcast nodes by interests who wanted to build out radio networks on the cheap — by and large, these have been religious and public broadcasters who pipe in programming via satellite to air on a translator. Translators don’t require any staff and since they don’t originate their own programming all they need is a shack for the RF-boxes and a tower nearby.

This all began to change last decade when, after a multi-year freeze on new translator stations in order to implement the LPFM radio service, the FCC opened a filing window for new translators in 2003. Several cunning parties were well-prepared for this opportunity, flooding the agency with tens of thousands of translator applications — a 250-watt FM spectrum gold rush. Out of these came thousands of new translator stations, which in the intervening years have been fodder for speculative development of the FM dial around the country. Read More

Fiscal “Threat” Posed By NY Pirates Belied By Broadcasters’ Own Data

As a part of the campaign now underway to bring the (nonexistent) hammer down on unlicensed broadcasting in the New York metropolitan area, licensed broadcasters are alleging a variety of “harms” caused by pirate stations. Many of them are vastly overblown, such as the threat of interference they pose to a variety of communications networks, dangers from uncontrolled radiation — and, in the newest charge, economic hardships they cause to licensed stations.

The contention that pirate radio stations infringe on the radio industry’s right to make mad profits was first floated in an April 2015 blog post by Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly; he claimed unlicensed broadcasting “causes unacceptable economic harm to legitimate and licensed American broadcasters by stealing listeners.” Read More

Bring the Noise (Floor)

In a little-covered meeting earlier this summer, the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council voted to proceed with what could potentially be a controversial study of noise across the electromagnetic spectrum. This two-page PDF outlines the TAC’s proposal and asks several questions about what such a study should cover, and how to go about doing it.

Many FCC-watchers seem pleasantly surprised that the TAC is wading into this mess. The study itself will be broken down along two lines: attempting to quantify interference from intentional and unintentional radiators. Intentional radiators are sources of potential noise that mean to broadcast — think radio and TV stations, wireless routers, and the like. Unintentional radiators are things that emit RF energy (and potential noise) but that is not their primary reason for being — think most electronic devices, older-model LED systems, and whatnot. Read More