Two points of view on moving FM translators


With the FCC’s freeze still in place on new FM translator applications, it has become popular for broadcasters to buy existing translators and move them to a new location using a Minor Modification application – sometimes repeatedly to get to the final desired location. That’s raising some eyebrows at the FCC.

RBR-TVBR happened to run into a consulting engineer Thursday morning who was annoyed that the FCC is taking 90 days to approve each Minor Mod, since that means it can take the better part of a year to move a newly acquired translator to where the client broadcaster really wants it to be.

Just a couple of hours later we were listening to the FCC’s Peter Doyle, Chief, Audio Division, Media Bureau, come at the issue from quite a different direction. He’s questioning whether those multiple hops comply fully with the FCC’s regulations.

Doyle described a typical case where the owner would implement each hop by signing the translator on from a vehicle in a parking lot, retransmit the primary station for a couple of hours, then simultaneously apply for permission to remain silent and file a new Minor Mod to make the next hop. Such hops are to get around the FCC’s rules that allow a translator to move only 14 km if east of the Mississippi River or 26 km if west of the Mississippi.

The FCC official questioned whether putting the translator license on the vehicle dashboard complies with the posting regulations, especially if the vehicle is driven away after transmitting ends. And did the licensee really have site authority, as required, to broadcast from a shopping center parking lot? What about compliance with local zoning rules?

“This raises questions about abuse of our licensing process,” Doyle said, although he didn’t indicate that the FCC was on the verge of any crackdown. He suggested that possible solutions could be to change the rule on relocating translators or perhaps the FCC opening a window for Major Modification applications, which would eliminate the need for multiple Minor Mod hops. The 90-day grant procedure in place now, rather than the previous faster processing, was put into place for staffing reasons, Doyle said, since the flood of translator Minor Mod applications was diverting the FM staff from dealing with other applications. 

One thing that’s made FM translators so popular was the FCC decision to allow AM stations to use FM translators. To date, about 450 AMs have availed themselves of that option. Also, he noted, a few broadcasters are using FM translators to broadcast in analog the HD2 or even HD3 channel of a full-power FM station.