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Goodbye, Frankens? TV deadline approaches

FM6 operators are running out of time

Low-power TV stations in the United States must terminate analog TV operations by July 13. And that story has a radio twist.

Barring further FCC action, the date is expected to bring the end of FM6 stations — those television operators that use their audio frequencies below the FM band to create what are essentially radio stations, branded as such and audible to FM listeners.

These typically operate in large markets where FM spectrum is scarce. When they cropped up, Radio World and others humorously nicknamed these entities “Franken FMs” for the way their operators had stitched together TV and radio services to create something unintended by the Federal Communications Commission. Some proponents consider the term derogatory.

The FCC does have an open rulemaking proceeding about whether to allow operation of analog radio services by digital LPTVs as ancillary or supplementary services.

The LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition wants the FCC to allow a dual digital LPTV and analog audio signal. Some broadcasters oppose that. [Read: “FCC Weighs the Future of FM6 Stations”]

As of now the commission has not issued a ruling, and we don’t know if it will. If it does not, the stations are presumably doomed.

This past week the Media Bureau reminded LPTV and translator stations that their digital transition date is approaching. By 11:59 p.m. local time on July 13, they must terminate analog television operations regardless of whether their digital facilities are operational.

“Stations that have not yet constructed a digital facility must cease analog television operations no later than July 13, 2021, and remain silent until construction is completed. If a station goes silent prior to completing construction of its digital facility, it may file a request for silent authority.”

The commission said that LPTV/translator stations that experience delays in completing digital facilities can seek a final extension of their digital construction permits, of up to 180 days, to be filed by March 15; but those stations must turn off their analog by July 13 regardless.