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Engineer Tells FCC to “Wake up and Smell the Coffee”

He urges commission to remember how much broadcasters are doing with limited resources

Once when I was in eighth grade, which was about two months before rocks were formed, I sat in geography class and as usual was paying no attention to where Egypt or Mesopotamia were located.

Instead, I was drawing out a schematic of the Class B modulator with a pair of 6L6s that I wanted to build for my 40-meter CW rig. Out of a clear blue sky, I heard my name and looked up. The teacher was looking at me with a quizzical expression. It was obvious he had asked me a question. Of course, it had nothing to do with 807s or 6L6s, so I had no idea what would be a good answer.

After a long, sweaty pause, he finally broke the silence with this little gem: “Mr. Schacht, it’s about time you wake up and smell the coffee.”

That line is again applicable today, concerning the FCC and the C-band debacle.

It seems to me that the agency that licenses and controls all of the radio spectrum would vaguely know what everyone else in the communications industry knows: C-band satellite transmission is the lifeblood of television, radio, CATV and a great deal of data transmissions.

Rather than the commission ask every broadcast station and CATV system to register their antenna (of course, for commercial purposes at an unnecessarily high fee!), the commission should require CATV, radio and television that don’t use C-band downlinks to register! There probably are very few, with the exception of LPFMs (I take care of a big 100-watter that does have a C-band downlink).

The C-band downlink is the lifeblood of every CATV system, so I am sure the commission knows where every one of them is. Why can’t the commission just accept the fact that nearly every broadcast station — TV, radio, commercial and non-com — is using C-band downlinks?

Now, on to the frequency allocation. Take a look at the RF spectrum as is currently allocated by the FCC. (If you’re unfamiliar, you can find it in most radio books and all over the internet.) How much spectrum does “radiolocation” need? Yes, this is radar and the like, but I really think what is listed as “radiolocation” is either unoccupied or being saved for government use. Why not share some of that underused spectrum? There’s a whole bunch of it around 3GHz among other places.

Why do we, the broadcasters, have to keeping making concessions for the cellular and broadband people? Other than because money talks, and they have lots of it.

Do you know why the cellular people and broadband people have so much money to bully the FCC around, and the broadcasters and CATV people have so little? That’s because while we certainly are in the business of making money, we are also community servants.


Right now, as I write this, we are under a tornado warning and severe storm warning in Iowa. The local radio stations are tracking the storms and I am listening to live coverage. All they are doing is using their licensed facilities to keep people safe and save lives.

The cellular people do none of that; they just rake in money to provide a telephone and an internet service that works “some of the time.”

Sure, they send out alerts. I have two cellular phones from different carriers. I hear severe weather alerts on local radio or television as NOAA trips the EAS system. Anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes later, it might trip one or both of my cell phones. By then, the storm has passed, or I was sucked up in the tornado I didn’t know about, or the Amber Alert missing child is now three states away.

No, neither the cell phones nor the internet even comes close to what the broadcasters provide in their communities. Unlike the cell companies or the broadband providers, the broadcasters will do whatever is necessary to keep the public informed in an emergency: stations operating from their transmitter sites when the studio was leveled by a tornado, AMers stringing up long wires when their tower is toppled. Local radio and television will be there when the public needs them.


Have you ever tried to use the internet or cell service for a program link? Yes, both radio and television do, but it ain’t no match for the reliability or quality you get from a satellite. A few of the stations that I deal with have given up carrying some college football teams because the provider went off the bird and onto the internet, and it just isn’t reliable.

Yes, the internet and cell phones are nice, but as toys. If I need to make an important call, I’ll always go to a landline; it sounds good, and I won’t lose the call. Maybe, rather than give the cell and broadband more spectrum, the commission should require that they make what they have work and not keep reducing the sample rate of the calls to make more money by squeezing more calls onto each RF carrier.

So, to the FCC: Maybe you should look at less used spectrum for the broadband people, or take it away from somewhere else.

You have taken our TV ENG channels, our over-the-air TV channels, you have had your eyes set on our UHF RPU frequencies and now on our major source of programming outside the studio, the C-band.

We are doing our damned best to serve the people of our communities, over the air, commercial or non-commercial, in spite of the big money trying to make us stop watching free TV or listen to free radio and services that keep us safe.

I think it’s time for the FCC to wake up and smell the coffee!

The author is a consulting engineer in Kensett, Iowa.