Time is running out for FM6 stations?

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An image of the media kit for WDCN (LP) near Washington, DC

The future of “Franken FM” stations remains seriously uncertain as the operators of these stations, along with all of Channel 6’s other low-power television broadcasters, face a July 13 deadline to cease analog broadcasting and begin. digital television transmission.

As of mid-May, the Federal Communications Commission had not responded to requests to allow television stations that advertise themselves as radio stations on 87.7 MHz to continue their analog broadcasts on that frequency.

Some promoters think they don’t need additional permission.

The FCC has been informed by an LPTV station that it has converted to digital, but is considering continuing FM6 operations as well. Venture Technologies Group, a licensee of KBKF (LD) in San Jose, Calif., Hopes their correspondence will help clarify the commission’s position. It also operates FM6 signals in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego and Sacramento.

The FCC confirmed to Radio World that it had received the notification from KBKF, which it characterized as a “request,” and said it was “under consideration and remains in abeyance,” a spokesperson said. word in April.

The television station began digital ATSC 3.0 operations in February. “The station complies with ATSC 3.0 rules for digital LPTV stations,” Venture Technologies wrote.

“The auxiliary or additional audio signal occupies part of the remaining bandwidth allocated to the station as part of its DTV channel. “

He continued: “The licensee has notified all potentially affected Channel 5, Channel 6, 87.7 FM and 88.1 FM stations in San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland and adjacent DMAs that it is starting digital service with video. ATSC 3.0 and an auxiliary audio signal. . None of these stations reported interference or other problems to the licensee. In the event of unexpected interference, the licensee will take prompt corrective action, including termination of all or part of the station’s signal, if necessary.

Paul Koplin, President of Venture Technologies Group, said, “We believe that existing FCC rules allow the use of analog audio media as an incidental or additional basis in these circumstances.”

KBFK broadcasts contemporary Christian music from the Educational Media Foundation’s Air1 radio network.

In March, EMF urged the FCC to “act quickly” on the FM6 procedure, as stations must be able to plan “to avoid a potential nasty surprise if their audiences lose the service they have enjoyed for many years.”

“Uncertainty” created by FCC

Meanwhile, the Preserve Community Programming Coalition (PCPC), which represents half a dozen LPTV Channel 6 stations, said the old ATSC 1.0 digital television standard did not contemplate using less than 6 MHz.

“According to the ATSC 3.0 standard, the DTV signal can occupy as little as 5.509 MHz, leaving room for an analog audio carrier that does not interfere with the station’s DTV signal in any way. The KBKF (LD) application describes this setup, but prior approval from the FCC is not required to provide an ancillary or additional service.

According to PCPC, the wording of the FCC rules allows LPTV digital television stations to “offer services of any kind” including audio as long as they “do not derogate from the obligations of DTV broadcast stations”. transmit at least one live video program. signal at no direct cost to the viewer.

“In fact, the rule specifies that the services can be provided on a broadcast, point-to-point or point-to-multipoint basis, which means that they do not need to be part of the main ATSC television signal,” said declared a PCPC. said the spokesperson.

The group believes that no further action by the FCC is required, although it hopes the commission will clarify its position.

“The FCC is expected to allow currently operating analogue channel 6 LPTV stations to continue to use part of their spectrum to provide analogue audio service on 87.7 FM after the digital transition,” she wrote in comments. to commission.

A PCPC spokesperson added, “Given the uncertainty created by the FCC … the commission should reassure listeners underserved by these stations that their 87.7 FM stations are not going to go away.”

Question of legitimacy

The Franken FM phenomenon has sparked debate in the radio industry about the legitimacy of operations. There are about 20 such stations in the United States. Their leaders say they are serving the public interest by carving out a place for themselves in radio and that they have found a profitable business model in doing so.

These LPTV Channel 6 televisions broadcast limited visual programming to meet their license requirements while transmitting an audio signal programmed and marked as a radio station. The FCC has open regulations on whether to allow FM6 operations to continue on an ancillary or additional basis after the July date.

He asked for further comment in a public notice in December on whether digital LPTV televisions should be allowed to operate analog radio services. The FCC first asked the same question in 2014.

Operators of FM6 stations have been pushing for several years to be able to maintain an analog output on 87.7 even when converting to a digital TV6 service. But their outlook seemed to darken when the Media Bureau issued a public notice this year reminding Channel 6’s LPTV stations that their deadline to end all analog operations was fast approaching.

LPTVs have been allowed to request an extension to complete their digital TV installations beyond July 13, but such extensions do not allow radio operations to continue beyond that date, the FCC said.

FM6 advocates met with media bureau chief Michelle Carey in March to discuss the “process of converting Channel 6’s existing analog stations to digital in the absence of a committee decision on whether to allow LPTV digital stations to operate analogue FM radio type services on an ancillary or supplemental basis ”, according to an ex parte summary.

Public interest

Critics of LPTV FM6 stations, including National Public Radio, have always maintained that FM6 stations are a misuse of public airwaves since their television licenses were not issued with radio service in mind. In addition, they pose a continuing threat of harmful interference to public radio stations in the adjacent FM band reserved for non-commercial educational broadcast stations.

NPR previously commented: “The so-called Franken FM stations exploit regulatory loopholes to transmit a silent video signal for television receivers and independent audio service for reception by FM radios set to 87.7, each Franken FM occupying 30 times the spectrum used by a traditional FM station. . “

But PCPC says that FM6 stations “do not fit into any regulatory box”. He rejects the interference argument, saying that Channel 6 stations have been broadcasting audio on 87.7 MHz since the 1950s without causing interference to other services, and further that “there is no has never had a documented case of interference from Franken FM with any other radio or television station. . “

Supporters also say that FM6’s programming often focuses on underserved ethnic and minority communities who historically have had limited access to the airwaves.

For example, an 87.7 FM station in New York serves the Korean community, while an 87.7 MHz station in Los Angeles targets the Latino audience. In Sacramento, an FM6 offers programs for the Russian community.

In Chicago, an FM6 station broadcasts a sweet AC and oldies format on 87.7 and claims to have an average of a weekly cume of over half a million people.

“A voice and a lifeline”

WDCN (LP) “La Nueva 87.7 FM” is a low-power Spanish-language station with offices in Rockville, Maryland, and a radio signal that covers much of Washington, DC. It is owned by Signal Above LLC, which claims Washington is the 13th largest and richest Hispanic market in the country.

Wray Fitch, Managing Member of Signal Above, says the station has been targeting the market with Spanish-language radio shows for 11 years. It broadcasts a community bulletin board on its video signal.

“This should be the time when all small businesses are encouraged, especially those that serve as a voice and lifeline to underserved communities. These small businesses and the targeted outreach services they provide are a backbone, if not a beacon on the road to recovery from COVID and the thriving of all these small communities. This light should not be unplugged, ”Fitch wrote in an email to Radio World.

Fitch said he has requested an extension for the migration to digital TV given that WDCN’s digital installations will not be completed until the July deadline.

“We plan to build our digital channel 6 in due course. We are negotiating for equipment, tower space and hiring tower crews. The engineering is done, ”he said.

Snycom Media Group operates KXDP (LP) in Denver, under the brand La Invasora 87.7 FM and serves the local Hispanic community.

“We are the only station in Denver that broadcasts live news, traffic and weather information in Spanish,” said Christopher Blair, owner of KXDP. “Our intentions are to continue to serve our listeners as we have done in the past. We hope the FCC has the wisdom to realize that we are essential lifelines for our communities. “

KXDP, which broadcasts music videos on its TV signal, has yet to build its digital LPTV facilities; she too has requested an extension from the FCC.

“We focus on the local community. We identify families in need at Christmas, Thanksgiving and other times and help them with money or gifts. And provide free weekly airtime for Alcoholics Anonymous to come to our studio and invite those who may need to attend meetings, ”said Blair.

Daniel Melendez, president of Omega Media Broadcasting, licensee of KIPS (LP) in Beaumont, Texas, said his station is the city’s only Spanish-language radio station and is important to public safety.

“We are in an area with tons of hurricane activity and our station has been essential in providing the community with detailed information. We were also able to help with community services, ”said Melendez.

KIPS (LP) transmits video loops over its TV signal and plays Spanish music on 87.7 MHz, Melendez said. It has requested an extension for the transition of its digital facilities and hopes there will be some sort of provision to extend the station’s analog audio services as well.

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