Deceptive Advertising: Translators as “Metro Stations”

More evidence that the market in FM translator stations is maturing quickly.

Saga Communications, a radio conglomerate that specializes in mid-market acquisitions, owns 91 stations across the country. Of these, some three dozen are FM translators: second-class radio stations limited to a power of 250 watts or less that rebroadcast the signals of other stations.

Saga is an aggressive player in the practice of using FM-HD Radio signals to feed programming to analog translators. Since very few people actually listen to HD Radio, these mini-signals appear to be "new" stations, though in most cases they’re completely canned programming of a format that wouldn’t otherwise be profitable on a real full-power FM station. Read More

Broadcasters Still Ambivalent About Streaming

Interesting news out of Saga Communications, a broadcast conglomerate with more than 100 stations in nearly 30 markets. Saga has decided to limit its online-streaming presence to the stations it owns in the top 100 markets.

For those stations that will stream, Saga plans to cap listening geographically, limiting online access to those who actually reside in the stations’ on-air coverage area. In addition, Saga may implement a 90-minute time limit for online listening: listeners will be prompted to click something to continue the stream after the initial session. If they don’t respond, they’re done.

Considering that the majority of Saga’s stations are outside the top 100 markets, this is a significant diminution of the company’s online streaming presence. Saga claims the cost of streaming is prohibitive, as it spends $800,000 per month to provide station streams, while the revenue it generates from them is paltry. Most of this money goes to pay performance royalties on the music it streams.

Contrast this with the actions of radio’s biggest player, Clear Channel, over the last year. Clear Channel’s building what it hopes to be the go-to portal for streaming broadcast radio stations in iHeartRadio.com. Not only has it repositioned its broadcast properties to act essentially as billboards for the company’s online presence, but it’s entered into several agreements with other broadcasters (both commercial and noncommercial) to aggregate their streams exclusively through its portal.

Clear Channel is also taking steps to attempt to control the cost of streaming royalties. Earlier this month, the company broke from the rest of the radio industry, striking a deal with the Big Machine Label Group to pay the first-ever performance royalties for broadcast airplay. In exchange, the company gets a discounted rate for streaming royalty payments to the label. Read More

Translator Petition Attracts Scant Comment

A couple dozen folks filed comments in the FCC’s proposed rulemaking to allow FM translator stations to originate their own programming. Several of the commenters are long-time LPFM activists, and many of them support the proposal provided that a translator’s license status is not used to bump LPFM stations off the air, and that the FCC be diligent enough to prevent this type of abuse, especially in light of the speculation and trafficking in translator station construction permits that’s gone on in recent years. (Conspicuously missing from the initial comment round is LPFM’s largest institutional proponent, the Prometheus Radio Project.)

Other supporters of the proposal include local owners of single translator stations, who believe they could be used to replace full-power stations in smaller communities that have since been bought out by broadcast conglomerates and moved closer to larger markets (“rimshot” stations). Read More