Fans of Clear Channel Rocker WIOT-FM were complaining of interference in the territory between it and Detroit. It was coming on 104.7 co-channel translator W284BQ. The translator attempted to solve the interference problem by giving complainants smartphones with which to stream WIOT, but that didn’t wash with either Clear Channel or the FCC.
The translator is licensed to Radio Power Inc., which in turn is owned by Martz Communications. It has been playing Smooth Jazz over 104.7 in the Motor City.
However, 28 different people complained of interference that was disrupting their enjoyment of WIOT, in the vicinity Ypsilanti, Belleville and Taylor, all in Michigan.
RPI was unable to find a technical solution to the interference problem, but it did go to great lengths to address the complaints, according to detailed documentation it supplied to the FCC. FCC summarized, writing, “RPI indicates that as a result of its efforts, the interference complaints of five complainants have been resolved, four complainants have declined to meet with RPI, five complainants have stopped responding to correspondence, one is no longer a WIOT listener, one did not give sufficient contact information, three did not respond to any inquiries, eight have accepted smartphones offered by RPI and one complainant has declined the smartphone.” Among its arguments was the contention that its smartphone solution actually improves the reception of the station for the people using them.
The purpose of the smartphones was to give complainants access to WIOT over iHeartradio. However, Clear Channel wasn’t buying it. It said it did nothing to address the underlying over-air interference issue; it didn’t address the possibility that WIOT would withdraw from iHeartradio at some point; it failed to provide access to portions of the WIOT programming that were available only over the air, particularly emergency information; and perhaps most importantly, it provided an incredibly novel and ultimately “insufficient and unworkable.”
Clear Channel said that even if the concerns of the first 28 complainants were either resolved or dropped, it remains an ongoing problem. The company said its was aware of 58 further complaints that it was not making completely public since RPI had put previous complaints on its website for all to see.
The FCC has ordered W#284BQ off the air immediately until such time as the actual interference problem is resolved – it said that would apply even if the smartphone solution was deemed appropriate.
But in case anybody was wondering, the FCC agreed with Clear Channel that it is not. The FCC said, “…we agree … that a listener may reasonably reject a non-broadcast technology delivered on a subscription basis to offset interference to a signal which the listener desires to receive off-the-air in an unimpeded manner. RPI’s approach also fails to adequately take into account future potential listeners who will have no opportunity to recognize that their reception of WIOT(FM) is foreclosed or impaired by unresolved and actionable interference from W284BQ.” It added that the approach would be “extraordinarily burdensome” for the FCC to administer.
The FCC went on: “Moreover, RPI’s decision to publicize the names of complainants – an action that will necessarily serve to discourage the filing of future bona fide complaints – raises significant concerns about whether a fair and prompt complaint resolution process could operate without Commission intervention. Finally, RPI’s approach will inevitably lead the Commission into a quagmire of novel issues, including whether the commercial service is programmatically ‘equivalent’; whether the service provides comparable signal quality and reliability; whether a listener or RPI is responsible for equipment repairs and losses; whether RPI and its successors are required to purchase equipment and pay subscription fees in perpetuity; and how the Commission could effectively monitor and enforce compliance with such requirements. The Commission cannot and need not expend such significant resources to keep a translator station on the air.”
W284BQ was ordered to cease operations immediately.