FCC Moves Forward With FM Translator Interference NPRM


Streamlining the process for filing an FM translator interference complaint, and the remediation procedures used by the FCC to resolve such an issue, is one step closer to fruition.

The Commission at its May Open Meeting, held Thursday (5/10) without the presence of outgoing Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, issued an NPRM that will allow the public to comment before the FCC votes on its proposed changes.

FM translators are closely tied to the “AM revitalization” efforts championed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and are also used to bring service to areas where the translator’s associated primary station has difficulty reaching due to terrain or, in some cases, distance.

Translators are “secondary stations,” and as such they are required to eliminate any interference — or sign off the air.

“Due to the success of the AM revitalization proceeding and the resulting substantial increase in translator licenses, the process for resolving FM translator interference complaints has become more important,” the Commission notes. ” As a result, this is an appropriate time for the Commission to examine how to streamline and expedite the complaint resolution process.”

The NPRM proposes the following:

  • If interference is shown to, or from, any other station, FM translators should have greater flexibility to move to another available frequency — rather than simply sign off the air
  • A minimum of six complaints should be required to support an interference claim — establishing a burden of proof on full-power stations
  • Revised rules, needed to clarify and standardize complaint requirements
  • Proposed technical criteria, used to assess actual and predicted interference
  • An outer distance limit, created beyond which interference complaints would not be actionable. 

The latter proposal is intriguing, as this could negate an out-of-market station (for example, Alpha Media’s Class C1 WEAT-FM 107.9 in West Palm Beach) from alleging interference from co-channel translator W300BQ in Vero Beach, some 65 miles to the north and within the West Palm Beach DMA — although outside of the West Palm Beach Nielsen Audio market.

“These proposed changes are designed to provide greater certainty to full-power stations regarding complaint requirements, limit contentious factual disputes and ensure prompt and consistent relief from actual translator interference,” the FCC contends.

Chairman Pai and Commissioners O’Rielly, Carr, and Rosenworcel approved the NPRM, with O’Rielly and Carr issuing separate statements. Clyburn officially did not participate, as the FCC’s staff said their farewells to the outgoing Commissioner earlier this week.

Pai issued a statement on “MB Docket No. 18-119,” formally known as Amendment of Part 74 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding FM Translator Interference — the final item retiring Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle will be presenting to the Commission, concluding 23 years at the Commission and nearly 17 years in his current role.

Pai said, “Our efforts to revitalize AM radio have been going well.  Most notably, we’ve held four windows through which AM broadcasters have been able to obtain FM translators.  These translators help AM stations improve their programming, expand their listenership, and stabilize their financial position.”

He noted how, in a trip last week to states along the Gulf of Mexico, he visited Class C Oldies WGCM-AM 1240 in Gulfport, Miss., where, Pai noted, “The station owner told me that the translator his station had acquired through our AM radio revitalization initiative had been enormously helpful in reaching new listeners and growing revenue.”

But, Pai added, “With the success of the translator program has come an uptick in interference complaints from primary FM stations due to the increasing number of translators on the air. Our current process for resolving such interference complaints can be nasty, brutish, and long (to put a twist on Hobbes). That’s why we aim to streamline and expedite it.”

Regarding the proposed rule changes, he concluded, “These measures would provide more certainty to translator stations and full-service FM stations alike. And, in many cases, they would eliminate the need for further remediation measures, resolving interference complaints more quickly.”

NAB EVP/Communications Dennis Wharton was among the first to react to the NPRM’s approval, and said his organization “is grateful” the FCC is considering new policies “that will extend local radio service through the use of translators while protecting the existing service of FM broadcasters. We look forward to participating in the Commission’s proceeding.”