The Bumpy Road of Using FM Translators to Rebroadcast AM Stations or HD-2 Channels

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In recent years, FM translators have become more and more important to broadcasters, as they are being used to rebroadcast AM stations and HD-2 channels, giving the programming broadcast on these over-the-air signals new outlets in many markets. However, there have been some bumps in the road to the introduction of these new outlets. These bumps have arisen both from attempts to move these translators significant distances without observing all the obligations of FCC rules and policies, and in connection with translator stations that have started operations only to find that there were interference complaints from a broadcaster on an adjacent channel in some nearby market. So, while translator stations have provided many opportunities to broadcasters, those looking at translators to rebroadcast one of their signals should be aware of these potential pitfalls that have arisen in a few cases.

Perhaps the worst case involved an translator licensee in Florida, who was attempting to move translators from the Florida Keys into the Miami area. Under current rules, an FM translator licensee can only move a translator from one location to another if the current coverage of the translator overlaps with the proposed coverage area of that station, unless the applicant waits for an infrequent translator window (the last was held in 2003) where the application can file a "major change" and would be subject to competing applications, . Because of this requirement, it sometimes it takes multiple "hops" to move a translator from one location to another where someone might want to use it to rebroadcast an AM station or an HD-2 signal. At each hop, the translator licensee must build the station, get it licensed, and then file to move to the next location until it is ultimately located at its desired location. Each hop can take months to process by the FCC, to build and operate. The recent case shows the problems that can arise in connection with these hops if an applicant attempts to cut corners.

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