LPFM and Hartford FM told by the FCC to cooperate in second-adjacent dispute

The FCC has released a letter decision in the case of New River Community Church, licensee of WYPH-LP, Manchester, CT regarding second-adjacent channel interference. 

In January, 2016, WYPH-LP filed a modification application, this application included an exhibit prepared by REC Networks, through a wholesale agreement with Christian Community Broadcasters.  In that exhibit, WYPH-LP was able to demonstrate the lack of interference to Hartford station, WDRC-FM and  Saga Communications' WAQY, Springfield, MA, utilizing a 4-bay antenna, which the FCC granted in February.  In August, 2017, WYPH-LP filed a license to cover application, which was not handled through REC, which stated that the facility ended up installing a 2-bay antenna.  No complaints were received from the operation in the time following the start of the WYPH-LP operation.

In January, 2018, Red Wolf Broadcasting Corporation applied for new FM translator for AM station WBOM, Meriden, CT during AM Revitalization Auction 100.  The translator specified the same channel as the WYPH-LP and specified a directional antenna pattern that protected WYPH-LP, which would exclude the lucrative Hartford area.  The application was granted by the FCC in June, 2018.

In March, 2018, the license of the heritage station WDRC-FM ("Big D 103") was assigned from Connoisseur Media Licensees to Red Wolf.

In January 2020 (two and a half years after WYPH-LP came on the air), Red Wolf filed an interference complaint against WYPH-LP stating that there are listener complaints of second-adjacent channel interference to WDRC-FM in the area immediately surrounding the WYPH-LP transmitter site.  In their complaint, Red Wolf also claims that WYPH-LP was operating the "wrong antenna" (e.g. the antenna not "specified" on their modification application).  This started an exchange of pleadings between the two parties that would eventually end up in an Audio Division order, in September, for WYPH-LP to cease operations until the interference can be resolved.  During theis period, WYPH-LP would include a study from an engineer to demonstrate that WYPH-LP was not causing the alleged interference to WDRC-FM.   Red Wolf countered that the engineering report was not "independent" and therefore should be disregarded.  An attorney representing WYPH-LP filed a Petition for Reconsideration on the Order in October. 

In December, 2020, a bit late to the party, Saga Communications, a known bully to LPFM stations and licensee of WAQY, took advantage of the vulnerable position that WYPH-LP was in, filed a complaint against WYPH-LP stating that if the LPFM was able to continue to operate with their "unauthorized antenna", the LPFM station would cause interference to WAQY.  Saga did not include any listener complaints to back up their claim.  They also ask the the FCC reconsider the 2017 grant of the license to cover application.

See all of the activity on this case in the CDBS Correspondence Folder.

In today's letter decision, the FCC affirms their position that WYPH-LP needs to remain off the air at this time because of the second adjacent channel complaint, but they did order WYPH-LP and Red Wolf to mutually engage in "on-off" testing to demonstrate whether WYPH-LP is causing interference to WDRC in the immediate area around the WYPH-LP antenna.  The parties have been ordered to submit test results to the FCC within 90 days.  Saga's complaint, which included a Petition for Reconsideration on the 3+ year old license grant was dismissed as untimely.

REC analysis

First of all, REC's involvement in this application was solely the determination that a 4-bay antenna must be used in order to demonstrate that the interfering contour from WYPH-LP in respect to WDRC-FM and WAQY, based on antenna manufacturers specifications on the published elevation pattern of the antenna did not reach any occupied structures.  This resulted in an exhibit document that was provided to Christian Community Broadcasters through a long-standing wholesale relationship.  CCB prepared the Form 318 application and submitted it to the FCC.  REC had no further involvement in this application and therefore, we analyze this overall situation from an independent perspective.

In the FM Translator and FM Booster services, the antenna make, model, number of bays and spacing between bays is specified on the actual modification application.  That information is then carried over to the construction permit authorization.  This is because of the large number of FM Translators and FM Boosters that operate directional antennas. 

LPFM is different.  In LPFM, the antenna information is not stated on the application.  This is due to the "simplified" nature of the service as well as the (at the time) prohibition of "routine" directional antennas in the LPFM service. When a construction permit is granted for an LPFM, the authorization will not specify the antenna type; This is different than FM Translators and Boosters.  The antenna details are specified on the license to cover application filed after the facility is built.  This means that up to the license to cover application, the FCC had no record of which antenna is specified, nor does an LPFM construction permit specify an antenna (we have seen a couple of cases over the years where a specific antenna was noted in a condition on the authorization).

The Rules and the LCRA requires that LPFM stations seeking waiver of the second adjacent channel spacing, must make a technical demonstration that they are capable of preventing interference to "any radio service".  To achieve this, we first look at the field strength service contour (F 50/50) of each of the short-spaced second adjacent channel station at the antenna site.  If there is more than one short-spaced station, then we look further into the station that reaches the LPFM with a weaker (lower) service contour as that facility will require more protection.  With that, we then determine the LPFM's interfering contour size, which is 40 dBu over the field strength of the incoming second-adjacent channel station.  This calculation is done in the FCC Curves tool.  Depending on the measured size of the LPFM interfering contour (which we also refer to as "overlap zone"), it could fall under one of these categories: (1) the overlap zone is very small and if measured from the radiation center does not reach the ground and there are no occupied structures immediately adjacent to the tower, (2) the overlap zone does reach the ground but there are no occupied structures within the radius of the overlap zone or (3) the overlap zone does reach the ground and reaches occupied structures if the overlap is considered shaped like a sphere, however, because the design of the antenna is in a manner that limits downward radiation in the area in the vicinity of the antenna, the overlap zone (interfering contour) does not reach any occupied structures.  In example (3), we use the elevation patterns provided by the manufacturer of the antenna to build our showing of this.  These elevation patterns will vary based on the number of antenna bays (sections) used and the spacing between the bays on the tower.   In cases where the short-spaced second-adjacent station does not even place a service contour at the LPFM site, compliance with the second-adjacent channel rule can be made with a simple contour study to demonstrate that the 100, 97 or 94 dBu interfering contour of the LPFM does not overlap with the 60, 57 (for commercial Class B1) or 54 (for commercial Class B) dBu protected service contour of the impacted second-adjacent channel station. 

In the Hartford case, WDRC-FM placed a 69.1 dBu contour at the LPFM site, while WAQY placed a 69.0 dBu contour there.  These two measurements are fairly close, but in this case, we would have to examine the weaker of the stations, WAQY.  With the LPFM running at 100 watts ERP, the overlap zone is calculated at 249 meters from the radiation center of the antenna.  LPFM stations this far out from their second-adjacent channel stations always face challenges.  The area around the WYPH-LP site was mainly single story industrial to the north and single-family dwelling to the south.   In this case, an antenna with 4-bays, specifically the Nicom BKG-77 (or 88) was the "smallest" antenna to demonstrate that the interfering contour does not reach occupied structures.  

While there is no rule or requirement on construction permits that the LPFM builds a specific antenna, if an LPFM station does deviate from the antenna that was used in their second-adjacent study and construct a different antenna, they do so at their own risk as it does open them up for complaints.  If an LPFM station successfully builds their station and then decides to change their antenna (but not location, height, etc.), they can make that change without prior authority from the FCC, but must file a modification of license within 10 days of making the change.  The modification of license application will ask for the new antenna make, model, number of bays, spacing between bays and revised transmjitter power output.  LMS now requires that license modification applications include an exhibit to better detail exactly what was changed.  In these cases, the FCC does not require a new second-adjacent channel showing as the antenna is not changing location.  Again, if the LPFM station changes out to a different antenna, they do so at their own risk and it may be possible that a complaint may come out of the blue. 

Despite all of that, we can't ignore the elephant in the room.  That is the fact that the licensee that has filed the second-adjacent complaint against the LPFM has a granted unbuilt translator construction permit on the same channel and because of that LPFM "being in the way", the translator is not as viable as it would be if the LPFM was to suddenly disappear off the face of the earth and the translator can be changed to a less directional pattern and include the profitable state capitol in their service area.  While both Connoiseur and Saga did not seem to have any issues with this LPFM station in the first 2 years of its operation, Red Wolf apparently did after they acquired WDRC.  So yes, this issue was triggered by much more than a listener complaint or few that someone was hearing "static" or other "noise" while listening to The Whale (WDRC-FM).

In this case, the FCC did the right thing by requiring Red Wolf and WYPH-LP to work together to do "on-off" testing to better determine, whether or not that the LPFM is actually causing interference.  Hopefully, by the beginning of summer, we will know the outcome of the "on-off" testing and hopefully the FCC will reach a prompt decision based on their evaluation of the on/off test data and we can finally put this issue to bed.  

In this case, if the LPFM constructed the correct antenna from the get-go, we would not be in this situation.  If a consultant like REC or an engineeer gives you advice to use a speciifc antenna, you should follow it.  If you need to use a different antenna, you should contact the person who prepared the second-adjacent waiver study to get clarification.  A simple phone call or e-mail to REC could have prevented some of this from happening.  Stations should avoid cutting corners or taking advice solely from "field" engineers who may not be up on the rules or have an understanding of Audio Division processes or past case law.  

Stay tuned for the next chapter.  Let's hope its not followed by a Saga saga.