Tower 2

The Federal Communications Commission will vote May 9 on its long awaited plan for how to resolve interference complaints between full-power stations and FM translators. In a draft order released this month, the FCC offered several proposed changes to its rules that it said are designed to avoid “protracted and contentious” fights between broadcasters, while at the same time giving more “certainty and flexibility” to owners of translators to keep what remains designated as a “secondary service” from being forced off the air. But the plan has raised concerns in both the Northeast and Southern California, home to two of the most crowded radio dials in America.

The New Jersey Broadcasters Association (NJBA) said it “strongly opposes” the FCC’s tentative conclusion to create an outer contour limit beyond which listener complaints of interference caused by FM translator would not be actionable. Whether it’s a 54dBu contour limit as some have proposed or 45dBu as the FCC has settled on in its proposal, NJBA said the mere existence of a limit would “fundamentally change” the existing balance of equities between translators and other full-service broadcast stations.

“Translators are a secondary service and essentially are supposed to be used as a repeater service to remedy challenging geographical limitations or to supplement AM stations,” NJBA said. “To now afford Translator operators ‘greater’ protections and in turn ‘limit’ the protections that full-service broadcasters can expect, flies in direct contrast to how each party understood the underlying protections they could expect when the respective licenses were granted to each party.”

In a filing with the FCC last week, NJBA also said that although its members back the proposal to increase the required number of complaints to validate a claim by a full power station, the idea of using a 15-day window for gathering those complaints is too short. It believes the FCC should instead give a broadcaster 30 or 60 days to collect the evidence. It also argued that a full-power station should have up to a year to determine there’s a problem “so as to not ignore New Jersey’s seasonal audience levels.”

Meanwhile on the West Coast, REC Networks’ Michelle Bradley thinks broadcasters need more “clarification” about how the 45dBu outer limit will be determined—especially as it applied to Southern California. That’s because several “super-maximum” Class B FMs are located in the region and, under 1962 rules adopted by the FCC, those stations are only protected to their class maximum. The thinking at the time, she said, was to ensure those Class B FMs wouldn’t perpetually have an advantage over other stations.

Now as the FCC considers how to process translator interference complaints, Bradley said it again brings up the status of super-powered, grandfathered Class B stations. “While these super-powered Class B stations comprise less than two percent of licensed FM stations, they are much more prevalent in California,” she told the FCC. The list includes 17 in Los Angeles and Orange County, although Bradley pointed out some of the super-max Class B FMs cover the entire Ventura/Oxnard and San Bernardino-Riverside markets as well as portions of the Bakersfield, Victor Valley and San Diego metro markets.

“The Media Bureau should clarify the outer limit for translator interference, when it involves an incumbent super-powered Class B station operating in the non-reserved band,” Bradley told the FCC, saying that would be “consistent” with the 1962 decision that said that super-power FM stations shouldn’t have an eternal advantage over other FMs. Instead she said the 45dBu line should be considered the “class maximum” and not what the outer contour is at super powered facility parameters. Otherwise, Bradley argued, those stations could have protection areas twice as big as they deserve.

What’s in the FCC proposal? Get an inside peek from Inside Radio HERE.