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Which comes first? LPFM or translators?

Right now there are a pile of applications for translator stations in the queue for at the FCC. Translators are often called booster stations because their only purpose is to rebroadcast the signal of a full-power station. This backlog of applications is important because translator stations can be spaced closer on the dial to a full-power station than another full-power station can, meaning that translators are eligible for spots on the dial that otherwise may be eligible for a new low-power FM station under the newly passed Local Community Radio Act.

One big question facing the Commission at the moment is whether or not these pending translator apps need to be resolved before accepting new LPFM applications. There are also some groups petitioning the FCC asking it raise the ten application limit it imposed on the translator auction.

All Access recently posted a run down of comments filed with the FCC on the issue. Expectedly, Prometheus Radio Project urges the Commission to open an LPFM filing window first, before processing the backlogged translator apps, while the National Association of Broadcasters advises that the Local Community Radio Act, “cannot be read to create a preference for any particular secondary service.”

Particularly interesting are recommendations made by the LPFM-friendly REC Networks that suggest the use of 87.5, 87.7 and 87.9 FM for low-power stations. REC also suggests modifying the protection contours for many analog low-power TV stations on Channel 6 which have smaller “service contours.” REC argues that LPFM stations can be located on adjacent frequencies geographically closer to these LPTV stations without causing interference.

There still is little public indication of how the FCC proposes to proceed on low-power FM. Last week Prometheus and the Media Access Project did meet with Chairman Genachowski’s Senior Advisor, as well as personnel from the Media Bureau’s Audio Division. Clearly, the most interested groups are not waiting for the Commission to ask how to move forward.

I know that hopeful LPFM applicants and community radio enthusiasts are waiting with baited breath. I hope we can supply a few more answers later this week when we’ll feature an interview with Prometheus on these and other important questions about the future of low-power FM.

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3 Responses to Which comes first? LPFM or translators?

  1. Communication Careers Corner January 18, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the “translator stations”, and whether or not they’ll become “LPFM stations” somewhere down the road. Either that, or follow the REC Networks suggestion that some LPFM’s be placed on 87.5, 87.7, or 87.9 on the former home of analog TV channel 6.

  2. Michiko January 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    There are still a few things that the Commission will need to work out in the translation of the LCRA including how much latitude the Commission will have with using prohibited overlap models in LPFM (like how translators work) or if LPFMs are still required to be distance spaced like how commercial full power stations work.

    In a different proceeding (ET Docket 10-235, TV “repourposing”), REC has recommended that Channel 6 spectrum (or Channel 5 in DTV Channel 6 markets) be made available to LPFM stations on a primary basis to LPTV stations but secondary to full power TV.

    The use of 87.5 (which we once promoted as “America’s Channel”), 87.7 and 87.9 has been on REC’s radar since day one. An investigation to band expansion to 87.5 was mentioned in the early 2010 memorandum of agreement between Prometheus Radio Project and Christian broadcaster Educational Media Foundation. This was an agreement that would allow LPFM and translators to co-exist and would remove the restrictive “10-cap” policy.

    REC’s recommendation to the FCC called for cleaning up translator applications:

    – Removal of translator applications with substantial defects (such as 250 watts on hilltops).

    – Removal of potentially speculative applications (entities that did not have any AM or FM broacast holdings prior to the 2003 window).

    Make some changes to the LPFM service to increase available channels:

    – Increase the number of translator “sub-classes” in the LPFM rules from 3 to 8 to better define the service contour of the translator.

    – Remove the intermediate frequency (IF) protection requirements by LPFM stations (translators under 100 watts are not required to protect IF).

    – Have LPFM stations protect Channel 6 LPTV stations based on their exact facilities. (like translators. LPFM rules assume all LPTV channel 6 stations operating at full facility when in fact, only about 6 are even close to full facility).

    Permit translator applications to only proceed if at least two LPFM channels are available for assignment in at least 70% of the populated service contour of the translator. Applications will be granted in priority of fill-in AM, fill-in FM, non-commercial with primary station less than 350km away, non-commercial with primary station more than 350km away (distant translator). Translator applications by the same entity in the same area on other channels would be dismissed (one per area per customer)

    I really think this is a reasonable solution and will address the “10-cap” issue, especially how it impacts rural areas while assuring that in metro areas, LPFM stations will be made available based on community need as mandated in the LCRA.

    Michi Eyre

    founder, REC Networks

  3. Skyking February 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    “radio enthusiasts are waiting with baited breath.”

    Baited breath, eh? I thought something smelled fishy…

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