Eleven years ago, one wily guy made a spectrum-grab on the FM dial of unprecedented proportions. Using a custom program and a bank of computers, Clark Parrish filed for more than 4,000 FM translator construction permits during a short application window for translators in 2003.
Operating under two corporate identities, Edgewater Broadcasting and Radio Assist Ministry, Parrish put the permits on the market. In fact, his gambit created an entirely new market for FM translator stations. Over the last decade, that’s netted RAM/EB and other religious broadcasters who got in on the game millons of dollars from hundreds of sales, many involving the nation’s largest broadcasters, who deploy FM translators as automated outlets typically fed by out-of-market or HD2/3 programming. Since translator stations are considered a secondary broadcast service, they don’t count against the FCC’s radio ownership caps.
In 2005, when the Columbia Journalism Review asked Mr. Parrish whether he gamed the system, he was circumspect about it: “We did something really big,” he said. But, “I certainly have done nothing illegal.”
Fast-forward eight years and now, there’s no reason anymore to be bashful. The market for FM translators is big business today, with translators (or just permits to build translators) regularly changing hands for five or six figures; by dollar-per-watt, translators are some of the most expensive radio stations on the planet. Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting‘s web sites now tout the launch their own religious broadcast network: Freedom Radio FM. It airs syndicated talk/music programming on several full-power stations which were built from the proceeds of translator speculation and trafficking, and is now being rolled out onto the swarm of FM translators still within the RAM/EB portfolio. Edgewater’s site also links to something called “Free FM,” ostensibly a Christian music network about which details are scant.
In a recent profile of Freedom Radio FM in a local newspaper, operations director Bob Adams was quite candid about how the network came to be. “We always joke with people that radio stations usually build, get staff and maybe add another station. We started with (nearly) 2,000 licenses.”
Simply hilarious that in the span of eleven years one man with a mission and some scripting ability acquired more access to the airwaves than it has taken the struggle for LPFM nearly twenty years to achieve.