Clear Channel is the nation’s largest commercial radio broadcaster. Educational Media Foundation is one of the nation’s largest religious radio broadcasters. Both companies have an affinity for FM translators – and now, they’re working together for mutual enrichment at the expense of others on the dial.
EMF operates the K-LOVE and AIR-1 Christian music networks. It owns several hundred FM translators around the country; during the Great Translator Invasion of 2003, when more than 13,000 new translator applications were filed, EMF tendered paperwork for 875 new translators.
Clear Channel owns more than 700 full-power radio stations, and over the last few years it has also acquired or leased FM translators to rebroadcast some of its “beleaguered” AM stations as well as to simulcast otherwise-unheard HD Radio programming in analog form.
Clear Channel has already demonstrated that it does not seem to care what harm its hunger for translators may cause. In New York City, for example, the company worked with an independent translator-owner and the FCC to get the translator moved into Manhattan so it could broadcast a country HD-2 stream as if it was a stand-alone station.
This did not sit will with a full-power country music broadcaster in New Jersey, who discovered that the translator interfered with its coverage of the New York metropolitan area. After complaining to regulators about the problem, the translator was forced to power down.
Now, Clear Channel and EMF have entered into agreements in several states whereby CC leases EMF translators for rebroadcasting purposes. Clear Channel gets additional radio outlets out of the deal through which it can broadcast AM and HD programming without needing to pay for the maintenance of additional transmission infrastructure. Such stations also don’t count against local radio station ownership caps.
EMF gets rent money, as well as access to CC’s HD subchannel programming, which “lets it more efficiently feed some translators.”
In Texas, this “partnership” is causing interference to an LPFM station. EMF used similarly fancy footwork to move one of its translators to a prime spot in the capital city of Austin. Clear Channel has since leased this translator to rebroadcast one of its AM stations in the market.
Down the road is the town of Dripping Springs, home to KDRP, a vibrant LPFM station. KDRP and EMF’s translator are on the same frequency – and ever since the translator was moved into Austin, it’s caused interference to the LPFM outlet.
KDRP is not taking the situation lightly: it’s filed a complaint with the FCC about the interference. While EMF has expressed concern over the allegation, Clear Channel is less conciliatory. “This is much ado about nothing,” the company said. “Simply stated, KDRP-LP is seeking to claim rights to coverage which is outside their FCC protected area.” This is an excuse KDRP flatly rejects.
It is ironic that an FM translator owned by a religious broadcaster is now being used to air sports-talk which is supported by commercials for “natural male enhancement” products and strip clubs. Although this disjuncture is curious, the real issue at hand is that commercial and religious radio behemoths are cornering the market on FM spectrum in a manner that detrimentally affects independent and community radio broadcasters.
Over the last 20 years, the FCC’s FM translator rules have been warped so badly that such stations are no longer used as a secondary service. The agency could proactively address this problem by restricting the use of translators in a manner more closely aligned with the original intent of the service. Unfortunately, it would seem that the FCC’s not really concerned with making any fundamental reforms to radio broadcast policy. As a result, practices such as the EMF/CC unholy alliance are likely to continue, and expand.