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Feature: The History of LPFM
Part 3

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The Rise of Translators

By 1980, while many Class D educational stations had upgraded their licenses and power to the new minimum requirements, there were still a lot of holes left in the non-commercial educational FM band that could be served by lower-wattage stations.

Although translator stations have been around since 1970, it was not until the end of Class D station era that their use exploded.

The opportunity was seized by religious broadcasters, who took advantage of the new openings on the spectrum by applying for and receiving approval to place translator stations throughout the country.

Here's how it worked: a religious organization would apply for an open channel in an area where there was enough room on the dial for a translator.

Translators are easy to set up and maintain. Once a translator license was approved, the cost of to establish and operate it was picked up by wealthy individuals in the communities the translator served; religious broadcasters had struck upon an effective low-cost method for spreading their "Word."

The FCC welcomed the applications, as nobody could run a "real" radio station anymore at such low power, and it's a shame to see useable spectrum lie fallow.

There are thousands of these automated re-broadcasters on the air now; the most notable exploiters of translators are the American Family Association, Family Radio and the Moody Bible Institute, who have literally hundreds each in operation nationwide.

The explosion in translators has effectively crowded out the possibility for LPFM stations in areas that could otherwise be served, but since LPFM had been outlawed, no real problem existed.

By the mid-1990s, as the powers-that-be made their next move to regulate radio, the potential benefits of LPFM stations again took center stage.

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