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July 31, 2021 10:09 pm  #1


FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

Interesting and unusual story about a small station owner who discovered having his AM signal simulcast on FM was more trouble than it was worth. 

FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

 

August 1, 2021 1:31 pm  #2


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

CBC kind of does the same thing with its FM simulcasts of AM stations in Western Canada, but they do a good job of promoting both frequencies. For Vancouver they always mention both 690 AM and 88.1 FM, even though 88.1 mainly covers Metro Vancouver and 690 extends to Vancouver Island and south into Washington. Similar story in Regina where the massive CBK 540 AM covers most of the province and beyond with an FM simulcast covering Regina; from what I remember driving through Saskatchewan they emphasized 540 over the FM transmitter.

Last edited by MJ Vancouver (August 1, 2021 1:34 pm)

 

August 1, 2021 2:49 pm  #3


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

Of course, the big difference is that the CBC doesn't have to convince advertisers about the strength of its signals, as the small station owner in the article does. It's quite a bizarre situation - while most AM operators would kill to carve out a piece of FM spectrum, having a translator actually hurts his business instead of helping it. Strange dilemma.

     Thread Starter
 

August 1, 2021 2:56 pm  #4


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

RadioActive wrote:

Of course, the big difference is that the CBC doesn't have to convince advertisers about the strength of their signals, as the small station owner in the article does.

Although...

He neglects to check AM and discover that at 20 miles the whip on his car is glowing cherry red from the AM RF. So we don’t get a buy.

The AM coverage means nothing if it's not even a consideration to a potential client. On a local level, it is very hard to sell advertising on AM radio to someone who never listens to AM radio, and as time goes on, that's most people.
 

Last edited by RadioAaron (August 1, 2021 2:58 pm)


 
 

August 1, 2021 6:18 pm  #5


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

I still don't really see the value in this translator thing.  Especially stations that need two or three FM frequencies just to cover a larger city with an FM signal.  And the fact that the FCC will apparently not let you shut down the AM station if you received approval to operate the low power FM translator.  Seems to be an inefficient and likely expensive way to prolong the life of an AM station.  Also it jams up the FM dial with low power repeaters that have little coverage. 

I admire the writer Ron Schacht for his dedication, and to be starting essentially a new business at 70.  However, I really don't see people driving 50-100 miles to your town to shop because they heard an ad on your AM radio station.  Unless the advertiser is offering something that is very, very rare, and unavailable elsewhere, why would anyone drive 1 to 2 hours from a small town to shop in another small town?  And the AM listener tends to be older and after a certain point seniors usually become more homebodies rather than making long trips just to go shopping. 

But good luck to Ron, and as he says in the article, the land at the transmitter site and metal from the towers will pay for the station if he ever needs to close it down.

 

August 1, 2021 10:14 pm  #6


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

I forgot but CFCO in Chatham has this situation - they promote themselves as Country 92.9, but that’s the frequency for an FM rebroadcast transmitter that basically just covers Chatham, while their AM signal on 630 AM covers all of Chatham-Kent, as well as Essex, Lambton, and western Middlesex Counties.

 

August 1, 2021 10:39 pm  #7


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

paterson1 wrote:

I still don't really see the value in this translator thing.  Especially stations that need two or three FM frequencies just to cover a larger city with an FM signal.  And the fact that the FCC will apparently not let you shut down the AM station if you received approval to operate the low power FM translator.  Seems to be an inefficient and likely expensive way to prolong the life of an AM station.  Also it jams up the FM dial with low power repeaters that have little coverage. 

I admire the writer Ron Schacht for his dedication, and to be starting essentially a new business at 70.  However, I really don't see people driving 50-100 miles to your town to shop because they heard an ad on your AM radio station.  Unless the advertiser is offering something that is very, very rare, and unavailable elsewhere, why would anyone drive 1 to 2 hours from a small town to shop in another small town?  And the AM listener tends to be older and after a certain point seniors usually become more homebodies rather than making long trips just to go shopping. 

But good luck to Ron, and as he says in the article, the land at the transmitter site and metal from the towers will pay for the station if he ever needs to close it down.

>> I admire the writer Ron Schacht for his dedication, and to be starting essentially a new business at 70.

It reminds me of one of favourite quotes...

"It's never too late to be what you might have been." - George Elliot

 
 


"Life without echo is really no life at all." - Dan Ingram
 

August 3, 2021 11:43 am  #8


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

It may be the story missing the details, but instead of "giving up" on the FM, which to be honest has much more shelf life....  He would be better off asking for a power increase, increase the tower height or both before just "giving up" on FM".   It would be a short sighted approach.   As well, is this one client who said this, or is this many?    5 years down the road, AM will be even less popular even in a small town...  Will cars come with AM even?   What happens as digital pushes in?      Myself, it seems a smarter approach would be asking for a power increase and/or bring the height up on the tower to extend the reach to match the AM signal. 

Last edited by radiokid (August 3, 2021 11:46 am)

 

August 3, 2021 12:15 pm  #9


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

radiokid wrote:

It may be the story missing the details, but instead of "giving up" on the FM, which to be honest has much more shelf life....  He would be better off asking for a power increase, increase the tower height or both before just "giving up" on FM".   It would be a short sighted approach.   As well, is this one client who said this, or is this many?    5 years down the road, AM will be even less popular even in a small town...  Will cars come with AM even?   What happens as digital pushes in?      Myself, it seems a smarter approach would be asking for a power increase and/or bring the height up on the tower to extend the reach to match the AM signal. 

I believe the FCC regulations limit the maximum power of a translator to 250 watts with no restriction on antenna height. The 250 watts is probably effective radiated power (ERP) as opposed to actual transmitter power. This would prevent the operator from adding additional antennas to increase the ERP past the 250 watt limit. With no height restriction a savvy operator could put that 250 watts on a very high tower and significantly extent the range of the signal. Now the catch. It would probably be expensive to rent tower space near the top of a high tower (unless you owned one already) and while the 250 watts would travel quite a distance, the signal would quickly lose much of its penetrating power into buildings / structures 10 or 15 miles away from the tower. But for those with deep pockets it might work,
 

Last edited by darcyh (August 3, 2021 12:16 pm)

 

August 3, 2021 12:35 pm  #10


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

Upgrading an FM station to what we in Canada call "regular power" status is a lot more difficult in the United States. Normally, stations must meet a minimum spacing requirement to co-channel and adjacent channel stations as specified in FCC Rule 73-207. 47 CFR § 73.207 - Minimum distance separation between stations. | CFR | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)
In Canada, we are allowed to drop in a new frequency regardless of stations separations as long as the appropriate co-channel and adjacent channel protection ratios are met. We are allowed a maximum-to-minimum ratio for directional antennas of 20 db.
In the U.S, reduced spacing is permissible, but cannot be less than specified in Rule 73.215. 47 CFR § 73.215 - Contour protection for short-spaced assignments. | CFR | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)
In addition, the maximum-to-minimum ratio of directional antennas cannot exceed 15 dB. In short, a lot of Canadian drop-ins just wouldn't be permissible in the U.S.

Then there is the whole issue of auction windows about which I am not at all conversant, but perhaps fybush can enlighten.

 

August 3, 2021 3:40 pm  #11


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

Turns out I wasn't the only one who read this story. L.A. radio columnist Richard Waggoner also had a few thoughts on what he saw. 

Why it doesn’t make sense to simulcast an AM station on FM

     Thread Starter
 

August 5, 2021 9:28 am  #12


Re: FM Translators for AMs Are a Double-Edged Sword

I've been summoned!

Before I get to the auction thing, a reminder about the very different regulatory schemes at play here: in Canada, the CRTC will let a broadcaster move an existing licence from AM to FM, treating it as a continuation of the same licence. 

In the US, the FCC considers a full-power FM license to be a completely separate entity from an AM license. If you own WXXX(AM) and you can find an available FM channel, you can apply for a license and put WXXX-FM on the air - and you can also keep the AM station, turn in the license, sell it, whatever. 

So about the auction, then: after the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC had a mandate from Congress to allocate scarce commercial facilities by auctioning them. So if you're WXXX(AM) and you do all the research and figure out that you can allocate a new FM frequency to your community (and Skywave is correct - that allocation location has to be fully spaced based on 73.207 without resorting to a directional antenna, though the actual built facility can use a DA for a certain amount of short-spacing), you still don't automatically get that channel. You petition to get it added to the table of allocations, the FCC adds it, and then...

You wait a year or two or three for the next auction, at which the FCC sets a minimum bid for that channel based on the population count it would cover. Maybe you're lucky and nobody else wants it and you get it for that minimum bid, or maybe there are others who want it and you end up in a bidding war.

The current auction that's underway has permits that are going for as little as $5000 (but they don't cover many people) and one that's been bid up to over $6 million already.