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FCC Taking Second Look at Translator Ordered Off the Air

With an aggressive response a possible reprieve for Arohi Media

This story has been updated for clarification.

Good news for an FM translator that was ordered off the air in May after complaints of interference.

The Federal Communications Commission is taking a second look at the license application for FM translator W252DK in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., which is licensed by Arohi Media. In August 2016, the FCC received an informal objection by Lakes Media, which alleged that the Arohi translator was interfering with reception of WLUS(FM) and that listeners were complaining.

“This [situation] is a perfect example of how a full-power FM station can take advantage of translators with fraudulent listener complaints,” said Ravi Cherukuri, managing member at Arohi.

The debate is now back in the commission’s hands after the FCC accepted Arohi’s Petition for Reconsideration.

Last fall, after Lakes Media alleged that the translator was interfering with reception of Lakes’ station, the FCC reviewed the issue and pointed in particular to three unresolved interference complaints that led the Media Bureau to find that the translator must suspend operations. FCC Rules state that an FM translator station cannot continue to operate if it interferes with listeners’ ability to receive an authorized broadcast station’s off-the-air signals.

In the weeks since, attorneys for Arohi Media submitted the Petition for Reconsideration and an Emergency Motion for Stay, saying that bureau staff misapplied certain commission rules and ignored facts — including Arohi’s assessment that the translator has always been operating on its properly assigned channel and that its coverage contour does not extend beyond the protected contour for which it is assigned.

In its petition, Arohi said it received no record of the official filing by the FCC in which these listeners were mentioned, and Arohi could not locate it in the FCC CDBS database, which meant Arohi was denied due process to respond, the licensee said. Cherukuri was not able to clarify from where Arohi eventually received the FCC filing.

Arohi did subsequently contact those three final listeners, and says those complaints should be considered resolved: the details provided by listeners are so vague as not to be acceptable and in one case, a listener gave Arohi verbal consent that interference wasn’t a problem, the licensee said in its petition to the FCC.

“From the beginning, it has been the position of Arohi that is innocent of interference, but if there is actual interference, that it would address it as required by the rules,” Arohi said in its June 1 petition. It also requests that a formal FCC inspection be completed.

Shutting down the translator over three complaints runs contrary to the commission’s stated goals to support minority station operators, Arohi said. Arohi Media’s Cherukuri is of Indian-American descent and the translator serves the African-American community in Durham, the licensee said in its filing.

Arohi also submitted an Emergency Motion for Stay, saying that the staff order is “arbitrary and capricious” and Arohi will suffer “irreparable harm” is a stay is not granted. “Without the use of this instant translator with WDUR(AM/FM), Arohi is experiencing a negative cash flow impact on WDUR,” the filing said.

When reached by Radio World, Cherukuri said, “My main message [is that] Arohi will take whatever it takes to fix the interference to any bona fide listener complaints.” He said that Lakes submitted “altered listener declarations,” pointing to a handwriting expert analysis that Arohi attorneys submitted to FCC. He also said some of the complaints show a Spanish-language channel causing interference. “[That] Lakes used these complaints against Arohi … is unacceptable,” Cherukuri said.

The issue is pending before the FCC.