HURRICANES HARVEY, IRMA, JOSE AND MARIA - Information for stations inside disaster areas. [Learn More]
GRASSROOTS RADIO CONFERENCE Albany, NY NEW DATES!! OCTOBER 6~9.. [more info here!!]

2017 AM on FM Translator Window: Information for LPFM stations

The following information is provided by REC Networks to assist LPFM stations that may have concerns or may experience actual issues related to FM translators.

There was a filing window for new translators between July 26 and August 2, 2017.  This window was limited to Class C and D AM licensees that did not participate in the 2016 "250-mile" filing window/opportunity.   There will eventually be another filing window where any AM licensee that did nto participate in the previous 2016 or 2017 windows to file for a new FM translator including the first opportunity for Class A and B AM stations to obtain a new translator.

What about the 2016 filing window?

In 2016, the FCC opened up two filing window opportunities to allow the licensees and permittees of existing translators (many of them were applied for in the 2003 "Great Translator Invasion" window) to be able to move a translator up to 250 miles and to any channel for the sole purpose of rebroadcasting an AM station.  In return, the translator must commit to rebroadcating that AM station for at least 4 years before the translator can be dedicated for a different primary station.  The first window, which ran for 6 months was strictly for Class C and D AM stations.  A three month window was opened for all classes of AM stations.  

What are the differences in the AM classes?

There are 4 classes of AM broadcast stations:

Class A Class A stations are sometimes referred to as "clear channel" stations.  These are the stations that are your main nighttime stations.  Many operate 50,000 watts at all times.
Class B Class B stations are mainly your regional stations.  These stations do have nighttime protection.  These stations generally operate 5,000 watts during the day and night but can operate more or less power.
Class C Class C are considered "local" stations.  Class C stations are mainly 1,000 watt stations with non-directional antennas.  They are protected like they are 250 watt stations.  Class C stations are restricted to specific frequencies that are set aside for "local" stations. 
Class D Class D stations were originally the daytime only stations.  These stations used to have to go off at or slightly after local sunset.  Over the years, many class D stations have been given some form of nighttime authority, even if it is few watts.  Despite the low power at night, some Class D AM stations get significant coverage during the day.

Who can't participate in the next window?

  • Class A and B AM stations (they will get a window later),
  • Full-power FM broadcasters, commercial and non-commercial for extending service (NCE) or for HD-2/fill-in,
  • Speculators that are not the licensee of the AM broadcast station (a large majority of 2003 translator applications were filed by speculators),
  • Low Power FM licensees (REC did file a petition for reconsideration to allow LPFM licensees to get translators in the A/B window later this year),
  • AM stations that moved a translator up to 250 miles during one of the 2016 move windows outside of the definition of what would be a "minor change". (Even if the translator was licensed to a party other than the AM station licensee).
  • Class C and D AM stations that participated in the 7/26/2017~8/2/2017 new cross-service FM translator filing window.

Does this window violate the LCRA?

The Local Community Radio Act of 2010 in Section 5 states that the FCC must assure that new licenses for LPFM and FM translators are given based on community need.  LPFM's opportunity to address community need took place in 2013 where 1,976 construction permits were granted based on about 2,800 applications.  Now, it the time for AM stations, to determine their community need.  We are anticipating that once the dust settles from the two AM translator windows, there will be another LPFM window in a few years although we hope there will be an LP-250 upgrade opportunity first.  Please continue to urge the FCC to bring RM-11749 to rulemaking.  

What do you mean this is the translator's turn where it comes to the LCRA?  What about 2016?

Section 5 of the LCRA addresses new licenses.  The translators involved in the 2016 window were obtained in or prior to 2003.  The "new licenses based on community need" language is in the LCRA as a direct result of the 2003 Great Translator Invasion.

How many applications are anticipated in the next window?

A current look at the database shows that there are currently 993 class C AM stations.  Of those stations, applications were filed during the 2016 window period on behalf of 260 of those stations.  This does not mean that all 260 were considered window applications as they could have been minor moves.  The database shows 1,883 class D AM stations.  Of those stations, 499 applications were filed during the window period.  Again, same caveat from before.  If there was no window last year and that all Class C and D AM stations are eligible to participate and each station was limited to one translator, this means a maximum of 2,876 however many Class C and D AM stations did participate in the 2016 window and if were to assume that all AM translators filed by C's and D's in 2016 were window eligible, that's still 2,117 AM stations that did not file.  Remember, the "Great Translator Invasion" window of 2003 had more than 10 times that many applications filed.   We must also take into consideration that some stations will not file because of their current financial condition or they just don't feel they need a translator.  AM stations in urban and suburban areas may have difficulty obtaining a translator due to lack of spectrum.  An issue that LPFM stations also face.

Once we have the statistics from the first 2017 window and we had a chance to review the status of Class A and B stations, we will update this question with an estimate of applications that can be filed in the final window.

How does the application process work?

Until the FCC releases information specific to this window, here's how they handled the 2003 window: 

  • During the designated window period, prospective AM station applicants will file a "short form" with basic engineering information.  No FCC fee is due at this time.
  • After the window, the FCC will release the applications for public viewing.
  • At the conclusion of the window, the FCC will determine which applications do not have competition (singleton).  At that time, those applicants will be instructed to file the "long form" application and pay the $805 filing fee (if they are commercial).  Once the singleton has filed their long form application, it will be accepted for filing and a 15 day period will be set aside for those who wish to file a petition to deny the application. If after 15 days, there's no issues and the application is technically sound, then the application will be granted for a 3 year construction permit.
  • For conflicting or mutually exclusive applications, the FCC should have a period of time where the applicants can reach settlements with the conflicting applicants or otherwise unilaterally make "minor" technical changes to eliminate the conflict.
  • Conflicting applications that can not be resolved will go to auction and the highest bidder will get their application granted.  (there is a different process if the applicant is a non-commercial educational station.)
  • Once a station is built and they are ready to go on the air, they will file Form 350, the translator's equivilent to the Form 319.  Commercial applicants will pay a $165 filing fee at this time.

Where can an AM station place their translator?

Under the revised rules AM stations are permitted to place their translator within their 2 millivolt per meter (2 mV/m) daytime contour.  For AM stations that have a 2 mV/m contour that does not extend at least 25 miles in a particular direction, they placement area is extended to 25 miles in that direction.  There is no outer limit other than the 2 mV/m contour itself (this is the issue that Prometheus Radio Project has filed a petition for reconsideration about).  

Prometheus mentions AM stations that have huge 2 mV/m contours that will "devistate" LPFM.  Won't this window blow LPFM off the map?

In our opinion, it can definitely cause some issues but it will not eliminate LPFM.  Translator interference to LPFM stations is real and there are some real world cases out there.  Although not all of these interference cases are related to translators carrying AM stations.  In fact, the interference issues REC is currently looking at were caused by translators carrying HD-2 FM subchannels and the translator is licensed to the subchannel operator.  While the use of FM translators for AM stations will make translators more attractive, especially in urban areas, there is a significant attraction for these translators in the rural areas, especially in areas with very poor ground conductivity and even the Class C stations are having a very difficult time.  Many of these stations, especially the Class Cs are family and/or minority owned and are more community focused than their corporate counterparts.

Of all of the Class C AM stations, about 10% of them have 2 mV/m contours that extend more than 40 miles in any direction.  Of those stations, a supermajority of the stations with over 40 mile contours are along the ocean or the Gulf Coast and the large area is caused by the way ground conductivity is measured over the water.  16% of Class C stations have a portion of their 2 mV/m contour that extend at least 25 miles but no more than 40 miles.  This means that 74% of Class C AM stations will only be allowed to place a translator service contour within a 25 mile radius of their AM tower.

Class D is a little different because Class D stations may have really good daytime service areas but they massively degrade at night.  18% of all Class D stations have a daytime 2 mV/m contour that exceed 40 miles (again, many of them are because the station is located along the coastline and are naturally inflated over the ocean).  Also, over 60% of all Class D AM stations have a 2 mV/m contour that is less than 25 miles in all directions.

What this means is that two thirds of the class C and D AM stations have a 2 mV/m contour of less than 25 miles.  While these translators (like any other translator) can potentially interfere with LPFM stations, these translators are still fairly limited on their placement.  

Based on our discussion with Class C and D AM station owners and representatives, the biggest interest to obtain a translator is for their primary community of license.  Only a very small number of AM stations have put their translator outside their primary community of license.

How come an AM station was granted a translator when they already had a translator?

This can happen if they obtained a translator through means other than the 2016 250-mile window.  If a translator was moved prior to the window using a "Mattoon waiver", it appears that they can still participate in the window.  Also if they obtained a translator and kept it at its previous spot or was able to move it as a minor move where the "250 mile rule" did not have to apply, then the translator did not take "a bite of the apple" and therefore is still eligible to file in the 2017 window.

Buzzwords

  • Minor change/move - For a translator, it is different than LPFM.  Translators be moved to any location as long as the 60 dBu protected conotur of the currently authorized facility and the proposed facility overlap, even if the overlap is miniscule.  Channel changes may be made +/- 1, 2, 3, 53 or 54 channels.  Channel changes to a non-adjacent channel is only allowed in cases where the translator is "displaced" as a result of application activity by a full-power station.
  • Mattoon waiver - Prior to the 2016 window, FM translators that wanted to move more than a minor change distance were allowed to do so if their purpose was to rebroadcast an AM station.  There were specific considerations that took place including how the move would impact the availability of channels for LPFM ("spectrum available" vs. "spectrum limited").  Once moved, the FM translator had to reboadcast the AM station for a minimum of 4 years before the translator could be repurposed.  

What happens if a translator interferes with an LPFM station?

Unfortunately, the rules are not clear on this.  There is a rule §74.1203 which addresses translators interfering with "authroized broadcast services".  This rule has not been changed since the early 1990s long before LPFM.  Don't bother calling the FCC because we have had reports of staff telling LPFM stations that because you are secondary and so are they that you will just have to "live with it".  The primary rule in question here is §74.1203(a) which states:

(a) An authorized FM translator or booster station will not be permitted to continue to operate if it causes any actual interference to:

(1) The transmission of any authorized broadcast station; or

(2) The reception of the input signal of any TV translator, TV booster, FM translator or FM booster station; or

(3) The direct reception by the public of the off-the-air signals of any authorized broadcast station including TV Channel 6 stations, Class D (secondary) noncommercial educational FM stations, and previously authorized and operating FM translators and FM booster stations. Interference will be considered to occur whenever reception of a regularly used signal is impaired by the signals radiated by the FM translator or booster station, regardless of the quality of such reception, the strength of the signal so used, or the channel on which the protected signal is transmitted.

Now, notice that there are several secondary services listed as protected in §74.1203(a)(3) including Class D stations, TV Channel 6 stations (can be interpreted to include LPTV and even other translators).  We are encouraging that LPFM stations facing interference from a new translator where the interference takes place inside the LPFM's 60dBu protected contour to file a complaint or an objection.  You will need letters from listeners that include their basic personal information, especially the address that they listen from.  That address must be within your service contour.  Also, you should be entitled to protections if your station was licensed and already on the air when the translator came on the air, even better, the LPFM station was on the air (and licensed) at the time the translator application was filed.   We do need to put pressure on the FCC to assure that §74.1203 also protects LPFMs from translators.

For additional assistance on inward LPFM interference, please contact an advocacy such as REC or Prometheus. 

How must a translator protect an LPFM station?

The translator has two interfering contours.  Think of these as buffer zones between their transmitter and your service area.  The 40 dBu interfering contour is used in respect to other stations operating on the same channel.  The smaller 54 dBu interfering contour is the buffer used for stations on first adjacent channels.  The translator's co-channel or first-adjacent channel interfering contour may not overlap your station's 60 dBu service contour.  

Please remember, that contours can be deceiving.  They are based on an archaic propagation theory based on terrain and actually was designed for services with much higher powers and much larger service areas than LPFM and FM translators.  Even though two stations may be legally separated, terrain and other factors can still cause interference.  We feel that the incumbent station should have rights in the matter of other secondary services being added.  

More about translators protecting LPFMs can be found in this FAQ article.

How must a LPFM station protect a translator?

LPFM stations use the distance spacing tables in §73.807(c) of the rules.  LPFM stations protect translators on co-channel, first and second adjacent channels.  LPFM stations can obtain a second adjacent channel waiver if the short spaced station is a translator.  

If you get "boxed-in" by a translator

  • You are allowed to move further away.  As long as the actual distance from the proposed LPFM site to the short-spaced translator is equal or farther away than the LPFM is right now to the translator, it can be used as long as it meets all other channel requirements (including second adjacent channel). 
  • Use rounding to your advantage.  Let's say you are 24.4 km away from the translator.  The translator is directional, you can barely hear it but because of how LPFM protects translators, it still makes you short-spaced.  If you can find another location that is 23.6 km away from the translator, then it can still be legially done.  This is because ofthe rounding rule that would in this example, place your current LPFM station at 24 km from the translator and place your new LPFM site, also 24 km from the translator.  As far as the FCC goes, the short spacing has not been reduced.  If you need assistance with this kind of move, please contact REC.
  • Consider other channels if they are available.  Contact REC for assistance.

One other thing to remember  here too is that the concept of being "boxed-in" by a translator is not exclusive to LPFM stations.  Translators can also box in other translators in the same manner and it does happen.  This is why it is important for LPFM stations to file for the facilities and locations that they really want to operate from in the long term.  If you need assistance with relocating your LPFM, REC is here to help!  Call on us!  1-844-REC-LPFM.

What if I have more questions?

Please feel free to use the various Facebook resources: