The Battle Over TV Channel 6 and LPTVs Used for FM Radio Broadcasts

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A controversy has bubbled up in connection with the FCC proceeding to set the date by which Low Power Television stations will be required to convert to digital operations. While the analog operations of full-power TV stations were mandatorily terminated in 2009, Low Power television stations and TV translators have not yet faced any end date for their analog operations - though the FCC recently suggested that the final date for analog broadcasting by these stations be set - perhaps as soon as next year. In comments filed in the proceeding to set the end date, the question of when to terminate analog broadcasting became tangled in another issue - whether Channel 6 LPTV stations should be allowed to continue to be be used to broadcast FM programming. NPR suggested that the practice be terminated now, while Channel 6 licensees argued that this use was perfectly permissible under FCC rules, and that it provides a public interest benefit that should be preserved.

Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band. Analog television stations used an audio transmission standard that was very similar to that used by FM stations, and the audio from analog Channel 6 stations could be picked up by FM radio receivers. In many major television markets across the country, LPTV operators have taken their stations, optimized the audio for FM reception, and started broadcasts intended to be treated like radio stations - programming music or talk like a radio station, with the video programming being secondary to the audio output. Some have called these "Franken FMs", and many listeners don't even realize that they are listening to a station licensed for video operation - just assuming that radio on 87.7 or 87.9 is a normal extension of the FM band. But this proceeding to end analog television broadcasting has brought the issue to the forefront.

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