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Alabama FM Seeks Power Increase to Deal With Changes Due to Coronavirus

Blackbelt Broadcasting applied for auxiliary waiver for WLYB(FM) 

Sumter County Alabama Commissioner Marcus Campbell (left) and Blackbelt Broadcasting’s Damon Collins provide updates on the COVID-19 outbreak. Campbell is also the voice of local high school broadcasts.

A Foley, Ala., broadcaster has applied for an auxiliary waiver it says will ameliorate the negative effects it is experiencing from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home order.

Blackbelt Broadcasting President Damon Collins is seeking an FM auxiliary authorization that would increase WLYB(FM)’s power from 3.4 kW to 8.0 kW. According to the waiver application, Collins seeks the change in reaction to changes in commuting and listening habits due to the pandemic — shifts that Collins and others anticipate will be long-term if not permanent.

This upgrade will help reach our rural communities who depend on our station. With more listening now done at home, this increase will improve our coverage without creating interference issues to other stations,” Collins wrote in an email to Radio World.

WLYB has also been a proponent of a proposed new FM class called C4. But Collins emphasizes that here the station is seeking an FM auxiliary permit that is secondary and can be cancelled at any time. “This FM Auxiliary permit effort does not replace the FM Class C4 petition. That initiative is still ongoing,” he said.

Specifically, Blackbelt Broadcasting is concerned that “The loss of the commuting listener base disproportionately affects lower-powered broadcasters … who depend significantly upon outdoor reception in vehicles in order to retain audience share.” Additionally, Collins said that, due to financial and technical constraints, lower-powered stations like his are less able to shift to streaming in order to reach indoor listeners. 

Additionally, the application says “the present and anticipated lasting sudden and unpredictable listening pattern shift due to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak precisely satisfies” the FCC’s criteria that “a waiver request must be due to special and unique circumstances.”

Although Blackbelt Broadcasting does not anticipate the change would cause interference, they say WLYB would revert to the original licensed parameters of its main authorization if there are six unresolved listener complaints.

However, WLYB is continuing to serve its community, which has been hard hit by the crisis.

“We have focused our efforts to provide community information to our listeners. We provide reports and interviews from our local and state leaders on the pandemic. Updates on testing, services available, and stories the impact our community. We are helping all businesses by letting our listeners know they are open by providing updates. Everyone is working together during this crisis,“ Collins said.

According to Collins, Sumter County, Ala., where WLYB is located,  “is one of the poorest counties in the state. The infection rate is high. The economy was fragile before the pandemic. Education and information on the crisis is important. Stations like WLYB(FM) provide a valuable service to many rural communities.”

WLYB signed on the air in 2013.  It runs an adult contemporary music format, but Collins emphasizes that the station’s mission is to be community oriented, focusing on Livingston, where its studios are downtown. It also broadcasts from Meridian, Ala., translator W263CF.

Radio is a critical resource to many rural communities. We hope that the FCC will consider this waiver to help rural stations reach underserved listeners,” Collins concluded.