While the proliferation of FM translator stations by religious broadcast groups arguably constitutes spectrum abuse, it's just one perspective on a larger problem. Religious broadcasters are not only snapping up translator channels on which real community LPFM stations might have been sited, they're also engaged in LPFM broadcasting.
A recent SF Chronicle story illustrates how Calvary Chapel organizes LPFM station affiliate growth:
Paul Riismandel @ Mediageek notes the clever structure of the Calvary Chapel "church," which I alternatively call a "brand." Ministers individually receive permission to use the "brand" and then set up their own Calvary Chapels. Paul further notes that the Calvary Chapels in Costa Mesa and Twin Falls are publicly linked as working together via the Calvary Satellite Network (CSN International). Decentralized control, Paul surmises, gives the "brand" as a whole plausible deniability when one segment of the Calvary Chapel radio empire appears to engage in unethical behavior.
The situation is even more complicated than that. The Calvary Chapels of Costa Mesa and Twin Falls appear to have, at the very least, sparked a trend that other Calvary Chapels now seek to emulate: radio broadcast market penetration by brute signal proliferation. Questions remain, however, about the relationships between the facilitators of this trend and the various Calvary Chapels involved.
New Calvary Networks Share Similarities
Neither Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls nor Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa were involved in the controversial $326,500 sale of some two dozen FM translator stations in Florida. These were sold by the Edgewater Broadcasting/Radio Assist Ministry cartel to "Reach Communications (Calvary Chapel, Inc.)," which references Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale.
Thus Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale initially purchased the translator permits from Edgewater/RAM. It then transferred the permits to "Reach Communications, Inc." According to an FCC filing reflecting the transfer of control,
Reach Communications, Inc. is also the holding company for full-power WREH-FM in Fort Lauderdale. This 100,000-watt station is otherwise known as "ReachFM." It is a new station, on the air only since late last year (following Florida's rough hurricane season). According to the station's web site, The "Pastor of the Month" is Bob Coy, founding pastor of Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale, and presumably the same Robert J. Coy whose name is listed on the FCC filing as president of both entities involved in the multi-translator transfer.
Also prominently featured on the ReachFM site is a "Coverage Map" showing the signal reach of WREH supplemented by little circles all over the state of Florida (it is unclear just which circles have already been acquired and which are simply coveted). The map is explicitly marked, in bold yellow type, "2005-06 EXPANSION." Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale is undoubtedly positioning itself to become a statewide player in the religious radio market niche.
Similarly, the San Diego, California-based Horizon Christian Fellowship also purchased a turnkey radio network ministry from the Edgewater/RAM cartel, involving FM translator construction permits in California, Washington, and Idaho. A March 2004 document outlining the payment protocol for the deal notes that Horizon Christian Fellowship's president (and founding pastor) Mike MacIntosh put $49,500 down for "options" on 18 translator construction permits, with the remainder payable within 10 days of the FCC's rubber-stamp approval of the sale.
According to FCC information this transaction was completed in July. While none of the documentation clearly identifies the total value of the transactions REC Networks puts it at $219,000. Horizon Christian Fellowship seems to be a "meta-chapel" with definitive links to the Calvary Chapel brand. It also runs a budding record label: a great compliment to any radio network.