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Chicago Translator Concerns

Will the Windy City’s million dollar translator twins be a victim of new interference rules?

The author is owner of WGTO(AM) and W246DV(FM), South Bend. Ind. He has been in radio since 1965. His commentaries on radio issues such as those facing AM owners are a recurring feature. Read his past articles by searching for “Langford.”

W236CF is an FM translator located high atop Chicago’s Willis Tower with a highly directional antenna and 60 watts ERP. Don’t let the 60 watts fool you. With its antenna at 1,417 feet it is no slouch and covers more than half of Chicago and some suburbs with its 50 dBu contour. The translator was purchased along with W236CG at the west edge of Chicago with 250 watts at 146 feet. The two translators operate in sync to provide a very impressive coverage area. Purchase price for the pair $3.5 million.

Using the HD2 signal of WLEY(FM), the pair are on the air as “Club Steppin’” and cater to African-American listeners looking for a particular adult style of music not found on full power Chicago analog stations.

But the future of the translator twins  may be in jeopardy based on the new interference rules passed by the FCC.

The 95.1 MHz frequency is also home to WIIL(FM) a 50,000 watt Class B licensed to Union Grove, Wis. It puts out a good signal from Milwaukee to Chicago.

The 45 dBu interference limit contour of WIIL actually encompasses the Willis Tower site of W236CF in Chicago, as well as the transmitter site of W236CG just outside Chicago in Elmwood Park. WIIL or “Will-Rock” as it’s called, enjoyed a very listenable signal over  most of Chicago until “Club Steppin’” severely impacted Chicago coverage.

Sources tell me that WIIL was already working on a complaint filing under the old interference rules.

Meeting the complaint minimum might not be hard with thousands of households affected by the interference area. W236CF and W236CG already use very tight directional antennas away from WIIL(FM). Since both antennas are inside the 45 dBu contour of WIIL, the only solutions that appear to be available would be moving farther away from WIIL or changing frequency. With 95.1 being used by other stations south of Chicago, moving farther out is not a good option. And with FM congestion so severe in Chicago, a frequency change that would still allow the coverage from Willis Tower might be impossible. And the pairing of the two translators might be impossible to maintain if one can change frequency and the other cannot. Without the super height of a downtown skyscraper,  W236CF’s commercial viability is in serious jeopardy along with the multimillion dollar investment.

Anytime a translator can be shoehorned into a market like Chicago at 1,400 feet downtown , it’s an engineering accomplishment. But it remains to be seen  if “Club Steppin’” can stand the challenge or will the multimillion dollar investment be the first casualty of the FCC’s new interference regs. Stay tuned!

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