A Holy Problem For A Heritage Maryland FM


By Adam R Jacobson

A Class C Christian Talk & Teaching AM in Baltimore that was once a Top 40 station featuring the legendary Dick Clark has received FCC approval to gain an FM translator, as part of the FCC’s AM revitalization act.

There’s just one slight problem – the soon-to-be launched facility has been granted approval to use the same frequency as a long-running Class A in the nearby Annapolis, Md., area that has long marketed itself to Charm City.

On August 19, the FCC gave its blessings to the relocation of FM translator W232CL from Roxana, Del., near vacation spot Bethany Beach, to downtown Baltimore, where it will be rechristened W276DE.

Peter and John Ministries is acquiring the facility for a yet-to-be-disclosed price. Once the move is made and the sign-on is made, it will be used to rebroadcast WRBS-AM – a move made through the FCC’s AM revitalization effort.

W276DE will use 103.1 MHz.

That’s why WRNR owner Steve Kingston is steamed.

RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION (full text, for subscribers below): Editor Adam loves WRNR! He’s been fond of the station since the early 1990s, when he wished its signal extended to American University and downtown Washington, DC. But … it doesn’t, because it’s not a DC station. It’s also not a Baltimore station. But, Kingston’s claims just might save it from severe signal incursion.

WRNR-LogoKingston, a veteran radio industry programmer who succeeded Scott Shannon as PD of WHTZ-FM “Z100” in New York and has also been a SVP at Sirius XM Radio, purchased WRNR through his company, Empire Broadcasting, in 2009.

In an interview with the Annapolis, Md. Capital Gazette, he argued that the translator’s sign-on could result in a loss of 30% of the station’s listenership. He also lamented that the FCC did not notify WRNR about the translator.

In a video appearing at the Capital Gazette website, veteran PD and afternoon host Bob Waugh explained in layman’s terms how the FM translator got the FCC’s OK; he incorrectly states that the translator will be used for a station “based out of Delaware.”

Waugh does argue, however, that WRNR’s signal covers Anne Arundel County, while stretching north into Harford and Baltimore Counties.

Thus, interference was more than possible, resulting in an overall loss of listeners, Waugh claims.

He also asks listeners to ask the FCC to change their minds, providing the email address of FCC examiner Robert Gates.

Meanwhile, a petition to reconsider was filed August 30 by Kingston.

“While the application purports to show that the translator’s 40 dBu contour will protect WRNR’s 60 dBu contour, it quite literally abuts WRNR’s protected contor,” the Petition for Reconsideration states. “Since the translator’s operation is co-channel, no amount of filtering will prevent interference to the off-air reception of WRNR in areas well beyond its 60 dBu contour … the actual interference to WRNR’s listening area and audience would be devastating.”

The petition also assails the FCC for its lack of notification.

“If it were not for a brief mention in a blog, [Empire] might never have known about this incursion until the translator went on the air,” the company says.

In filings made with the FCC, veteran broadcast engineer Kyle Magrill states, “A single-bay, directional, antenna will be used to eliminate interference to Class A co-channel station WRNR.”

As W232CL, the translator used the 94.3 MHz signal to bring Classical WWCJ-FM 89.1 in Cape May, NJ’s programming across the Delaware Bay to the First State’s beaches, which are accessible via ferry to Cape May.

Once the Baltimore battle is resolved, Kingston may have a second interference issue to contend with.

RBR + TVBR has confirmed that a translator application for Washington, DC has been accepted for filing at the FCC. The frequency the translator will use: 103.1 MHz.

Radio One intends to use the translator, W281AW, to bring Gospel and Inspirational Talk WYCB-AM “Spirit 1340” to the FM band — also as part of the FCC’s AM revitalization effort.

WRNR owner Kingston opines, “This certainly doesn’t help WRNR, especially with the new translator granted in Baltimore. But, it will have more of an impact on our co-channel in Frederick, Maryland, WAFY-FM [Key 103].”

Key 103, owned by Manning Broadcasting, serves an area of Maryland well to the north of Washington, DC, with a signal that extends down the I-270 corridor to Gaithersburg and Rockville.

W281AW will relocate from Petersburg, Va., a southern suburb of Richmond, to Radio One’s Silver Spring, Md. office tower. Once in place, maps show its 60 dBU signal will likely extend to the Capital Beltway and Baltimore-Washington Parkway, likely not causing considerable interference to either WAFY or WRNR.

Still, Kingston is less than pleased with the FCC’s methods for channel allocation.

“The FCC should reconsider translators being allowed to relocate simply outside the 60 dbu full power Class A FM, especially as a co-channel,” he says. “The interference is predictable, and most likely will force the translator to ultimately shut down. There will be loss of listenership, and revenue, in the end, and no one wins but the lawyers.”


RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION: Editor Adam loves WRNR! He’s been fond of the station since the early 1990s, when he wished its signal extended to American University and downtown Washington, DC. But … it doesn’t, because it’s not a DC station. It’s also not a Baltimore station.

WRNR’s signal extends as far west as the Maryland town of Largo. A co-channel booster there would have been great for reaching the University of Maryland College Park and perhaps Silver Spring and Capitol Hill. But, it was just a dream of a young kid who wanted an Adult Alternative station on the dial.

What’s truly arguable is WRNR’s status in Baltimore. Yes, WRNR has long marketed itself as a Baltimore station and in the car you can get the station in much of the metropolitan area. But WRNR’s tower is in Grasonville, Md., on the Eastern Shore side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and some 40 miles from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

That’s the problem. Steve Kingston makes some good points regarding interference, because the communities of Glen Burnie and Dundalk are within the protected contour of the WRNR signal. But, is that enough to prevent WRBS-AM from using 103.1 MHz in downtown Baltimore?

We hope the FCC changes its mind. If not, future situations such as these could result in protests, mind-numbing debates about marketing areas and dBus, and time spent by FCC examiner Robert Gates judging every questionable reassignment of a translator.

FM translators were designed to revitalize radio stations. But, they should not be used to destroy others. The sign-on of W276DE would greatly harm WRNR, while setting precedent for additional scenarios that could potentially drive listeners away from radio altogether due to the cacophony of corrupted signals.