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Don’t Kill My FM Translator!

Translator interference reform is well-meaning but the devil is in the details

The author is owner of KCXL(AM) and an FM translator at 102.9 MHz in Liberty, Mo., a suburb of the Kansas City metro area. Radio World invites industry-oriented commentaries and responses. Send to Radio World.

Question, why would honest and normally clear-thinking FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, along with the other commissioners, be poised to vote next week on new interference remediation rules which could lead to elimination of up to 90% of FM translators which they have proudly touted as being the crowning achievement of the AM Revitalization proceeding by virtue of having saved thousands of AM stations from extinction? Frankly, I pray that this is an honest oversight which can be remedied before they vote.

[Read: FCC to Vote on New FM Translator Interference Rules]

Having literally saved my small AM station from extinction, I have always worried that a lone radio enthusiast, using special antenna and receiver, could force my translator, serving thousands of listeners, off the air just to continue picking up a more distant signal for fun. The good news is that the proposed rules specifically prevent this specific potentiality. However, the bad news is that the new rules are more open-ended and are decidedly stacked against FM translators. Furthermore, they provide opportunity for a great deal of mischief.

My nightmare scenario is that five years or so from now when I’m ready to retire, some cutthroat competitor with deep pockets and underworked lawyers on retainer will entice a distant station, on the same or adjacent channel as my translator, to run ads seeking listeners who want to make a quick buck or get valuable station swag. All they have to do is fill out a simple complaint form online and let the station do the rest. A simple map showing that my translator might send out a weak signal to their far fringe listening area will be enough to prove interference exists. The only action I will be able to take then is to reduce power to a totally insignificant level or shutoff completely. Like most larger markets there are no alternative frequencies available to move to. Mercifully, the FCC has provided that execution will take place swiftly.

This scenario could still be prevented by adopting a reasonable policy which would exempt existing translators with no history of complaints for over a year from these new rules unless they made major changes.

[Read: Broadcasters Go on Record in Droves to Share Concerns]