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

HD Radio: Sold…Again

It came as a surprise to attendees of last week’s NAB Radio Show in Nashville: just a day before the CEO of DTS, the company who bought HD Radio proprietor iBiquity just last year, was to be a featured guest at a convention luncheon, his company was acquired by Tessera Technologies in an $850 million deal.

Who is Tessera? Founded in New York back in 1990, the company initially began as a designer and manufacturer of semiconductor chipsets, including memory modules. It went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2003; five years later it acquired FotoNation, a company devoted to image analysis. 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

HD Radio Makes “Progress,” But Analog Still Rules

Earlier this summer Radio World published one of its occasional special “e-books,” this one called “HD Radio From the Ground Up” (form-filling required to download). Like most industry trade publications, it’s a celebratory document that seeks to paint the U.S. digital broadcast system in the best possible light.

Kicking things off is a tech-centric column from Scott Fybush in which he talks with various enginerring principals about the efficiency of today’s FM-HD Radio systems. Unlike the first few generations of the tech, which involved wildly inefficient combination of the analog and digital signals, improvements to the HD system now make for a better marriage. In HD’s early years, more than 30 percent of the power that went into the analog/digital combination process was lost as waste heat; now that number is down to something like 10 percent. Read More

NY Broadcasters Try Quantifying Pirates

Tell us something we don’t know: they are pervasive and may outnumber licensed broadcasters in the number one radio market in America.

Meintel, Sgrignoli, & Wallace's magic pirate listening vanThat’s the most notable takeaway from a 103-page report (also embedded at the end of this post) prepared for the New York State Broadcasters’ Association by Maryland-based consulting engineers Meintel, Sgrignoli, & Wallace, who camped out at four locales in the NYC metropolitan area — two in NYC proper and two in New Jersey — earlier this year with a cleverly-camouflaged monitoring van (at right) and basically did FM bandscans.

They picked up 76 pirates on the dial…though they estimate that “there may be more than 100 unauthorized stations” on the air in total. According to the report, this is not the first pirate-survey MS&W has been commissioned for — similar bandscans were conducted in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Compared to last year’s findings, the number of unlicensed broadcasters in Brooklyn alone has increased some 58%, though there’s no way to compare figures since the earlier reports have not been made publicly available. Read More