This is one in a series of case studies in a special section of the Oct. 7 issue of Radio World called "Radio 2010: Traditional Solutions Blend With the New," in which radio managers discuss how they are preparing for the next decade of the millenium by improving their businesses in traditional and nontraditional ways.
Bob Augsburg Christian media network WAY-FM is a big believer in FM translators.
"FM repeaters have been an important part of our business since the mid-1990s," company founder and President Bob Augsburg tells Radio World. (A repeater technically is not the same as a translator, but Augsburg uses the word to refer to his translator network.)
"Repeaters have allowed us to serve markets too small to support standalone FM stations. They have also allowed us to get footholds in places such as Huntsville, Ala. We started there with a 10 watt repeater. Now we have our own noncommercial station there, WAYH 88.1 FM, with an ERP of 3500 watts."
Today, Augsburg estimates that his Nashville-based company, which owns 18 full-power stations, operates 40 to 50 FM repeaters throughout the southeastern United States. In many of these markets, listeners don’t realize that these 10 to 50 watt transmitters aren’t full-powered stations.
"If you manage to locate the repeater in the center of your coverage area at a good height, people can easily get you in their cars where most listening still takes place," he says.
"For instance, we have a 10 watt repeater on top of Cheyenne Mountain some 4,000 feet up. It covers Colorado Springs so beautifully that you can receive it in your car up to 35 miles away."
Such is the utility of FM repeaters that WAY-FM is now considering buying available AM stations in order to access their newfound right to operate 250 watt FM translators.
"Being able to go from 10 to 250 watts would make a huge difference in the markets we cover," he says. "Of course, the business case would have to be there: We would need the AM station to be offered at a real low price."
Given current market conditions, this seems entirely possible. In fact, he said, prices for radio stations in general have dropped far enough for WAY-FM to buy two commercial FMs in Louisville, Ky., and one commercial FM in Charleston, N.C.
"If some of the large radio companies are looking to divest a few stations in top 100 markets, WAY-FM would be interested in taking a look at the properties," he said.
Meanwhile WAY-FM will continue to tend its farm of FM translators and look for places to site new ones.
"An FM repeater allows you to enter a new market for under $50,000," says Bob Augsburg. "That’s a very good price for what the technology offers."