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Translator Hopping Defined

Not subtle pattern, says Doyle

FCC Media Bureau Chief Peter Doyle defined what constitutes FM “translator hopping” during a regulatory session at the recent Radio Show.

During a discussion of the commission’s tiered, market-based approach to determine how much spectrum remains in the top 150 markets for new low-power FMs and FM translators, Doyle said “some licensees have decided to walk their translators across other states.” That ignores the commission rule that says a translator needs to be within the station’s 60 dB contour, he said.

The agency would not grant an application to move a translator in a market in which there’s little to no remaining spectrum for LPFMs, he said, under the proposed approach.

Doyle had touched on serial translator hopping at last year’s radio show but got deeper into the discussion this time. Asked by an attorney in the audience to define the criteria for such a “hopper,” Doyle said: “It’s not a subtle pattern. [It’s] where a licensee files a translator license application, and one day later files to go silent, and the next week files a modification application.”

And switching gears, a collective groan came from attendees when moderator Kathy Kirby of Wiley, Rein suggested the final topic for the regulatory session — birds vs. towers.

According to environmental groups “50 million birds may be ready to die on your doorstep,” joked Howard Weiss of Fletcher Heald & Hildreth. In the issue that has stretched over several years, environmentalists say broadcast towers kill birds; broadcasters dispute this.

The Wireless Bureau is reviewing publicly filed comments on the issue, specifically a compromise reached between broadcasters and environmental groups involving different levels of bird kill prevention measures depending on tower height. To build towers more than 450 feet high, “you’ll get caught up in an environmental assessment and the FCC will have to seek notice on your construction proposal,” requiring a lot more time to go through the process, he said. The process isn’t as involved for towers between 450 to 350 feet tall, and for smaller towers.

The issue is, “the burden of proof has shifted from ‘birders’ who were required to show there was a problem to the FCC.” Now, broadcasters would be required to show there’s not a problem, said Weiss, who figures some sound or lighting changes may be the solution. How else are you going to convince environmentalists that it works, he asked rhetorically, “other than to just not build it.”

For a broadcaster who’s spent lots of money in a project to get a station on the air the issue “is going to be a difficult problem,” for some, he predicts.