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Booster Waiver Helps LPFM Station Restore Signal

Directional antenna and booster allows KPIK to transmit and still meet interference requirements

A low-power FM station in Stayton, Ore., has taken a step that only two other LPFMs have.

KPIK(LP) was recently granted a construction permit for an FM booster station. This is the third such CP granted to an LPFM station.

The application was submitted by Santiam Community Radio Corp., which broadcasts on 96.5 MHz. The 1-watt booster will retransmit on that same frequency.

“Due to a change in community of license and move inland by a station over on the coast, KPIK(LP) had to find a new channel,” said Gary Zolkoske, president of Santiam Community Radio. Since nothing fit from the old site, the station had to move several miles from the old transmitting location to clear all required minimum mileage distances to adjacent channels. And even though the 60 dB contour still reached the area on paper, the new transmitting location left a signal shadow over the small town of Scio, he said.

“The Scio area was line of sight to the old transmitting location, but now has minimal coverage due to [the fact that it is] surrounded by steep hills,” Zolkoske said. “Some listeners in that area reported having trouble receiving the station after the move.”

The station thought a booster might be the only way to restore coverage to the area in the absence of any forthcoming translator filing window for LPFMs, he said.

The first two approved boosters were granted by the Federal Communications Commission in June 2017. Boosters traditionally are used by stations to fill in gaps of coverage created by terrain, but after a 2012 FCC rule change, LPFM stations have the option to own up to two translators, one of which can be a booster.

The application was prepared by REC Networks. “I think it’s great that the Media Bureau does see the value of FM boosters for LPFM stations, especially given the various coverage challenges that LPFM stations face,” said Michi Bradley, founder of the advocacy group and consultancy.

[Read:First LPFM Booster in U.S. Signs On]

If you have an LPFM and this approach appeals to you, do keep in mind, REC wrote on its FM booster information page, that the 60 dBu protected service contour of the FM booster must remain within the same service contour of the primary station. “The intention of an FM booster is not to extend the coverage of a station but instead to fill in a gap in coverage in a service (contour) area that you are already entitled to,” it said.

In all three cases, CPs were approved for boosters because of terrain issues. REC said FCC rules do not generally allow boosters for LPFMs; any request is by default a waiver request; and the case must be compelling.

“Also remember,” REC said, “If you get a booster and then decide to move your primary station, you will likely to have to either modify or cancel your booster. Even if you move, your booster has to remain entirely within your primary station’s 60 dBu contour.”

REC expects more applications to come down the pike.

“I feel that for those very few applicants who understand what boosters can and can’t do, and have a good field engineer who can make them work right, they can work real well for the station,” Bradley said. “The spectrum that these boosters operate in is already set aside on the secondary level for these LPFM stations, meaning a translator can’t interfere in this area. This is an efficient use of spectrum.”

Until the rules are codified for LPFM boosters, she said, this type of work is all being done on waivers.

For KPIK, the ability to use a directional antenna allows the booster to be built at the LPFM’s original location and still meet all interference requirements, Zolkoske said. Although the LPFM had operated at 2 watts from that site — and the booster will operate with 1 watt — “This still should be enough to help listeners recover the signal that was lost in that area when the station had to move,” he said.