Translating the Translator Issue: The Next Step Towards Getting Low Power Radio in Our Cities













Translating the Translator Issue:
The Next Step Towards Getting Low Power Radio in Our Cities

On July 12 the FCC took the next step towards opening up a filing window for new Low Power FM community radio stations around the country. They proposed a plan that will heavily determine if there will be space on the dial for low power radio (LPFM)  in urban areas in the upcoming LPFM filing window. The proposal focuses on how the FCC should deal with thousands of translator applications that have been pending for years and if processed would severly limit the space available for community radio stations. When the FCC undergoes a change to its policy they call this process a rulemaking.

The news is good! The FCC takes steps towards making sure that low power community radio comes to our cities. But this is only a proposal, and the FCC needs to hear from people around the country who want to listen to and take part in low power community radio in their own town. See our Take Action page for more details about how you can send a comment the FCC and submit a letter to your representative.

Read on for some background info about the translator situation and the details of the FCC's proposed plan…

What is a translator anyway?

Translators are small stations (under 250 watts), that repeat what's on another station. They are generally not permitted to broadcast their own programming. Translators were originally intended to allow full power stations to reach more people in their area by extending or strengthening their signal. For exmaple, a station in a mountainous area may require a translator to reach listeners whose reception is blocked by the landscape.

Translators are of a similar size to Low Power FM, have been granted a similar legal status, and are liscensed with similar rules.

What do translators have to do with Low Power FM?

Space for radio stations is limited. Since LPFMs and translators are of a similar size and licensed in similar ways, some of the spots you could put a translator are also possibilities for future LPFM stations. In 2003 over 12,000 applications were filed for translators, many from just a few applicants looking to sell the translators or to create large national networks that repeat the same content and blanket the country. These translator applications threatened to use up all the space available for LPFMs, especially in cites where the FM dial is already crowded. Prometheus filed a petition pointing this out and the FCC froze the translator applications in 2007. Various proposals were put forth for resolving the unforeseen landslide of applications, including a ten application cap that would limit each prospective translator owner to a maximum of ten applications.

In January of 2011 the Local Community Radio Act was passed, creating the opportunity to license low power stations in urban areas for the first time. The law now requires the FCC to ensure space for these new stations, which means dealing with the frozen translator applications. Applications for translators were filed before the forthcoming LPFM window and if they are processed before LPFM applicants can apply then very little room will remain for community radio in American cities.

What does the FCC suggest and why should the public comment?

In the July 12th rulemaking, the FCC makes a proposal that could ensure that translator applications won't prevent new LFPM applicants from having a chance to apply in the largest cities in the country.

The FCC is making a proposal that attempts to protects the future of low power community radio! They need to hear from from individuals and groups who support community radio about the need for local voices on the air in their communities. Head on over to our Take Action page to learn how to tell the FCC to preserve space for LPFM, read on to learn the details of their proposal, or read on for a rundown on the complex issues!

More specifically...

The FCC took a closer look at the top 150 radio markets (cities) and chose a minimum amount of spaces that must be available for LPFM stations before they process any of the pending translator applications. The miniumum amount of space that must be available for LPFM is called the “LPFM floor”. Below is a list of what the FCC recommends for the minimum requirements:

Market Ranking
LPFM floor   
   1-20    8                   
   21-50    7
   51-100    6
   101-150    5
   Ranked below 150    5


The FCC completed extensive engineering studies of these cities to predict how many channels are likely to be available to LPFM applicants, taking into account the pending translator applications. If the number of channels they predict would be available is less than the floor assigned to that city, ALL the pending translator applications in that city will be dismissed.

Under this proposal, all translator applications would be dismissed in 66 of the top 150 cities.  See this page to find out what happens in your city.   The full text of the rulemaking is available from the FCC website.