After months of frustration, thousands of dollars in legal and engineering bills and difficulty in reaching listeners across four counties in North Carolina’s Triangle region, an individual known for many years as the founder of radio industry research firm Birch/Scarborough Corp. can finally rejoice in delivering an interference-free Class A Country station to what it argues is its entire listening area — including a big chunk of Durham County.
At 11am Thursday (11/1), translator W234AR was silenced — for good. The facility, owned by Arohi Media, shared the same dial position as Class C3 WLUS-FM 98.3, licensed to Clarksville, Va.
For roughly two years, WLUS owner Lakes Media and its President, Tom Birch, argued that the approval of W234AR by the FCC was flawed. While WLUS’s “fringe signal” as shown in Radio-Locator.com as encompassing all of Durham and much of neighboring Raleigh, to the east, WLUS’s “distant” signal is just to the north of Arohi’s translator.
The result has been a saga that began in 26 months ago and has provided a litmus test of sorts to LPFM and translator supporters who seek local, community voices and believe “rimshot” or out-of-market signals should be used to deliver what larger corporate-owned stations don’t. Unfortunately, science plays a role in ensuring that interference from such an action doesn’t happen.
On Aug. 18, 2016, Cherukuri used the translator to expand WRSV-FM 92.1 in Elm City, N.C. — “The People’s Station — Choice FM” — and its hip-hop format across the Raleigh-Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C., listening area.
The result, Birch said in a May 2017 interview, was the documented loss by Nielsen Audio of 8,800 WLUS listeners in Orange, Durham and Wake and southern Granville County, N.C., representing the southern end of WLUS’s coverage area.
For eight months and 19 days, the translator wreaked havoc on WLUS.
Nine hours after receiving a Staff Letter from the FCC to immediately cease operations, as its Licensed to Cover was dismissed, Arohi Media LLC on May 9, 2017, officially complied and shut down FM translator W252DK, licensed to Durham, N.C.
Arohi was then given a chance to start all over, and FCC Audio Division Chief Al Shuldiner in August 2018 granted a request for Special Temporary Authority filed by Arohi to resume operations of W234AR — originally licensed for broadcast at 94.7 MHz in Pocomoke City, Md., and now holding a CP for broadcast at 98.3 MHz in Durham.
While this may have appeared to be a win for Arohi, there was important caveat: W234AR was to use temporary reduced power facilities of just 10 watts. Within 30 days of resuming operations, Arohi was required to retain an independent engineer agreed upon by Arohi and Lakes Media in a filing submitted to the FCC to review the STA operations, investigate any interference complaints — with an opportunity for Lakes to witness — and submit monthly reports to the Commission and Lakes Media LLC regarding any interference complaints arising from the STA operations.
Arohi needed to immediately cease the STA operations if it was unable to resolve its interference issues with Lakes.
W234AR signed on at 98.3 MHz on September 4. Birch closely monitored the situation. Interference issues persisted for WLUS, as a WLUS listener filed a complaint later that month regarding interference issues. This was noted by technical consultant Timothy L. Warner in a formal Interference Report presented to the Commission on behalf of Arohi.
Warner reviewed the complaint at the individual’s home, with independent engineers present at W234AR and WLUS to determine that each facility was operating within authorized parameters at the time of the test. A vehicle radio was used, as was a “good quality portable radio” and a small pocket radio that uses its cord as an antenna.
On each device, WLUS’s signal were “usable,” leaving Warner to conclude that the translator caused interference.
As such, Arohi’s second try at 98.3 MHz ended. A request for Silent OTA was filed by the company through counsel John C. Trent. In it, Arohi notes that a channel change application has been filed allowing Arohi to return to the air on an entirely different signal.
This would put W234AR at 101.9 MHz.
Ironically, this is a signal Lakes Media uses for Class A WKSK-FM in South Hill, Va., However, WKSK’s signal contour ends far north of the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area.
The lone signal using 101.9 within 60 miles of Durham? An LPFM with the call letters WKRP.
“We’re obviously celebrating the end of this saga,” Birch told RBR+TVBR late Thursday. “Champagne is popping at Lakes Media world HQ!”
Speaking with Streamline Publishing’s Radio Ink, he added that the war waged over Arohi’s two translators cost WLUS some $100,000 in revenue and at least 12,000 listeners.
But, he offers this bit of advice to broadcasters who could face a similar issue, especially under the Pai Commission, as FM translator expansion has become a priority.
“Hire strong legal counsel, highlight the issue on-air and on social media, and invite affected listeners to submit the downloadable forms on your website to your contact point,” he said. “Consult legal counsel as to the format of the forms. It’s important that the forms comply with FCC requirements. It’s critical that complainants be credible and that identifiable listeners with *no* connection to the affected station are complainants.”