Since 2003, the unscrupulous folks at Radio Assist Ministry/Edgewater Broadcasting/World Radio Link have sold hundreds of FM translator station construction permits scarfed up in a questionable fashion to mostly-religious broadcasters looking to establish or extend turnkey radio networks on the cheap.
Horizon Christian Fellowship was one of RAM/EB/WRL’s biggest early clients. It bought 20 FM translator construction permits along the West Coast from Radio Assist and Edgewater in a series of deals worth $219,000 in early 2004. Horizon has loose ties to the Calvary Chapel fellowship of churches, and many Calvary Chapels are well-known for their abuse of FM spectrum. Horizon, like Calvary, grew from a single church in California to a network of churches throughout the U.S., Mexico, Japan, and Russia.
RAM/EB/WRL used the money from its early business with Horizon and a Calvary Chapel client to bid more than $1.5 million for 16 full-power FM station construction permits in an FCC auction. Adding full-power FM stations to the portfolio gives the triad the ability to set up custom regional radio networks, where one or more full-power FM stations beam programming to dozens of translator-repeaters. Reportedly, Horizon has already picked up some full-power FM station construction permits from World Radio Link, numbers and price unknown.
In January, Horizon bought nine more translator station construction permits in a series of deals involving both Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting for $52,000. These and other transactions at the time helped RAM/EB/WRL book its first $1 million in translator speculation revenue.
This was followed on June 22 by FCC approval of two more deals: one involving Horizon’s purchase of 19 permits in seven states from Radio Assist for $120,764, and one involving Edgewater’s sale of a dozen construction permits in nine states for $89,196.
On July 14, another double-transaction was waved through. One involved Horizon’s purchase of two dozen construction permits in 12 states from Radio Assist for $152,544. The other involved Edgewater selling seven permits in five states to Horizon for $52,031.
For those keeping score at home, that’s eight transactions involving 122 FM translator stations across 19 states, for $823,897: RAM/EB/WRL’s most profitable run by far. It also makes Horizon RAM/EB/WRL’s largest client in terms of revenue: some $1.1 million alone (that we know of).
In the latest series of sales, Horizon committed to pay anywhere between $6-8,000 per station, and made an up-front payment equal to 25-40% of the total purchase price, with the rest contingent upon FCC approval. In most of the deals, individual station construction permits were curiously priced out either at $6,356 or $7,433.
The paperwork behind Horizon’s acquisitions signal more than the construction of a garden-variety media empire. This is about conquering the FM dial via saturation for the Lord. While some of these new translator stations will rebroadcast Horizon Christian Fellowship’s own programming, others will rebroadcast stations that World Radio Link itself will program, though most will rebroadcast material from other well-known godcasters, like the American Family Association, Educational Media Foundation, and WAY-FM.
However, many of these translators will pick up the signal of a full-power FM station as fed through another translator station, in some cases owned by another entity, making many of these new stations the furthermost links in a daisy-chain of translators that can extend the reach of a parent full-power station across several states.
Such brotherly behavior, where one godcaster relays another’s programming through multiple stations of varied ownership, certainly muddies the water with regard to who owns what, and what can be heard where.
I wonder if retransmission agreements are involved, by which the owner of a given translator gets a cut of “listener support” that is received from within its coverage area. Charismatic and business-savvy people like Horizon’s founding pastor/CEO, Mike MacIntosh, don’t invest more than a million dollars in broadcast infrastructure, most of which will relay the ministry of others, without expecting a healthy return on investment.
Interestingly, the FCC’s electronic paperwork of a few of this year’s transactions includes a note that they are replacement filings, due to the fact that “A NON-RELEVANT CONFIDENTIAL AGREEMENT…WAS INADVERTENTLY ATTACHED” to the original submissions.
As with previous reports on the practice of translator speculation and trafficking, this one only scratches the surface. RAM/EB/WRL have been quite busy this year doing many other deals which I have not had the time to examine. So are other speculator/trafficker groups. These particular transactions are just the most flagrant of the foul bunch. They are just glimpses of what I increasingly suspect is a complicated network of interlocking station ownership, designed to mutually propagate the business of broadcast evangelism.