FCC Orders Davis To Kill WJZA’s Atlanta FM Translator


With pioneering Smooth Jazz consultant, programmer and air personality Allen Kepler in morning drive, former KKSF/San Francisco host Miranda Wilson in middays, and veteran Atlanta radio talent Rene Miller in afternoon drive, “Atlanta’s Smooth Jazz” soothes listeners by way of an FM translator at 101.1 MHz and its primary home, a Class D AM licensed to Decatur, Ga., east of downtown.

Since its October 2017 debut, the AM facility has played second fiddle to the translator, with the station branded as “Smooth Jazz 101.1.”

Effective immediately, thanks to the FCC, the lone home for Miller, Kepler and everything WJZA offers is that AM radio station at 1310 kHz.

According to a letter sent Friday (2/1) from the Commission to the legal counsel representing WJZA owner Davis Broadcasting and the attorneys representing Randy Gravley-owned Tri-State Communications, FM translator W266BW in Winder, Ga., is causing interference to Tri-State’s WLJA-FM 101.1 in Eljay, Ga.

As such, Davis must immediately cease operation of W266BW.

With 250 watts, W266BW has attracted listeners with a signal largely covering Atlanta’s core geographical area; its signal, from a tower just to the northwest of Emory University, fades to the north and west upon reaching Sandy Springs and is designed to fade in areas including Roswell and Marietta.

The key word here is “designed.” That’s because WLJA is licensed as a Class C3 FM with 21.5kw, from high terrain to the far north of Atlanta. As such, its signal contour stretches southward to Alpharetta, and even parts of Sandy Springs. To the north, it can even reach Chattanooga, Tenn.

As such, Gravley and Tri-State filed an interference complaint with the FCC — on August 16, 2017, when W266BW had yet to debut as “Smooth Jazz 101.1,” which in the most recent Nielsen Audio ratings earned a 0.1 share, 6+, in Atlanta.

In fact, Davis Broadcasting didn’t even own W266BW at the time the complaint was lodged by Tri-State. The facility was licensed to Youngers Colorado Broadcasting, and a purchase by Davis did not transpire until July 19, 2018.

Nevertheless, Davis is the current operator of the translator, and thus is responsible for its output.

Some 20 listener complaints were logged by Tri-State, representing interference issues seen between April 13 and May 22, 2017. They were sent to the Commission, along with a strong argument that W266BW should not be allowed to operate because another licensee, in August 2013, was ordered to cease operations until interference with WLJA was eliminated.

Davis challenged Tri-State’s claims, and visits to individuals complaining of interference were made by Davis’ engineer, Jack Giesler.

Tri-State protested the “one-sided” testing in October 2017 and Giesler’s claims that the translator was not causing the interference. On Dec. 21, 2017, Tri-State reiterated its complaint, with interference still being seen within its 60 dBu contour.

Back and forth claims continued, leading the Media Bureau to determine whether or not Davis has eliminated the actual interference caused by W266BW to the 20 WLJA listeners (mistakenly referred to as WJLA in the letter).

First, the 2013 interference proceeding was rendered moot to this proceeding.

Was that good news for Davis? Nope.

Five listeners still had interference issues that were not resolved, Media Bureau Audio Division Senior Deputy Chief James Bradshaw declared.

One big problem: unaccompanied tests by Giesler using his Sony model receiver and OEM equipment in a Ford Taurus was not acceptable. Instead, he needed to test each listener device for interference, which was not done.

Further, Bradshaw dismissed Davis’ assertion that it was excused from one interference complaint because the individual could not identify W266BW’s then-recent change to “Smooth Jazz 101.1.”

“The Commission’s Rules do not require this information from a complainant,” Bradshaw said.

Also tossed: The argument that a translator station is relieved of the need to remediate interference caused due to distance or “poor terrain.”

Tri-State’s legal counsel is Gary Smithwick of Smithwick & Belendiuk; Davis’ legal counsel is Scott Pippin of Lerman Senter.

As of 3:45pm Eastern Friday, the “Smooth Jazz 101.1” audio stream was running as normal, with Miller identifying the station as on AM and FM.

Davis Broadcasting VP/GM Greg Davis Jr. was out of the office and unreachable for comment. Tri-State President/CEO Gravley was also out of the office on Friday afternoon.

Gravley is also a member of the NAB Executive Committee.

Interestingly, former W266BW licensee Youngers on Aug. 9, 2017, received a Notice of Violation from the FCC Enforcement Bureau that reveals it operated an unlicensed radio station on frequency 123.05 MHz for approximately one week, which caused harmful interference to the aviation band.