Broadcasting Law: Boosters, Translators and LPFMs

Written by Attorney Joe Irby

Man at computer

I want to add a booster, or a translator to my broadcast station or I’d like to apply for an LPFM.

FM Translators and Low Power Frequency Modulation Stations (LPFM)

These two types of broadcast signals are rapidly catching on in popularity. Full-power radio stations are quickly buying up FM translators and moving them around to strategic locations to supplement their primary signal. On the other hand, non-profit groups and community organizations are quickly trying to take control of many LPFM signals throughout communities in order to more easily spread their message.

Although an FM Translator and an LPFM might look similar on their face, they are very different in practice.

FM Translator/Booster

Translators and boosters are stations that are operated for the purpose of retransmitting another radio station’s signal, either AM of FM without altering the programming it is retransmitting. The rules relating to translator or booster operation is found in 47 CFR 74.1201. The most frequently questioned rules are outlined here:

The FM translator may rebroadcast an AM radio signal. The translator must be located within the lesser of either: (1) the lesser of the 2 mV/M daytime contour of the AM radio station; and (2) a 25-mile (40 km) radius centered at the AM transmitter site.

For commercial FM radio stations, the translator may not act to extend the primary service contour of the primary signal. This rule, however, does not apply to noncommercial radio stations.

Translators must not operate on a frequency that will cause interference with other full-power radio stations.

An FM booster is easier to get. It operates much the same way as a translator, however, it is located within the primary service contour of the station’s primary signal, and the booster operates on the same frequency as the primary signal.

If an FM translator seeks to extend the coverage of the primary service area of a full-power radio station, the FCC will not grant the application to any person who is an owner of the primary radio station, a corporate partner, shareholder, officer, director, employee, general or limited partner, business associate, or family member. Bottom line = if a translator seeks to extend the primary signal’s service contour, the owner of the translator can’t be affiliated at all with the owner of the primary signal.

Translators and boosters that are out of the primary service contour of the parent radio station and owned by a different person or entity may not receive any support from the parent radio station except to the extent of installing or repairing equipment or keeping the translator in compliance with the terms of the translator’s license.

There is no limit on the number of translator or booster stations a licensee may possess. Each translator, however, does require a separate license. Boosters and translators do not count as “broadcast stations” for the purpose of the FCC’s ownership limits.

All licenses for boosters and translators are subject to a condition in the license saying that the FCC may terminate the license at any time with 60 days written notice. This usually happens because circumstances in the community or area served have changed, and shutting down the booster or translator would be the action that would likely best serve the community.

A booster or translator that wishes to rebroadcast the programming of another radio station must obtain written consent from the station that is the source of the programming. The FCC must be notified of the rebroadcast and have certified that prior written consent has been obtained.

Low Power Frequency Modulated (LPFM) Stations

Two types of LPFM’s exist: (1) LP100 stations, and (2) LP10 stations. The major difference between the two are simply the amount of power each will output. All the requirements for LPFM’s are laid out in 47 CFR Part 73.801 to 73.881.

The standard LP100 station puts out 100 watts of power with an antenna height of 30 meters (about 98.5 feet), or they may be altered to broadcast a signal that does not produce a 60 dBu contour further than 5.6 km from the transmitter. The LP10 station puts out only 10 watts of power with an antenna height of 30 meters. Despite the lack of power, the LP10’s signal travels over half as far as the LP100. LP10 is allowed to broadcast a signal that produces a 60 dBu contour no further than 3.2 km from the transmitter.

Generally, a person or entity may own only one LPFM. One exception applies which may allow a governmental or non-profit organization to own two LPFM’s, however, this is very difficult to accomplish. Furthermore, nobody who owns an attributable interest in ANY OTHER broadcast station (including translators) may own or have an attributable interest in an LPFM.

LPFM’s must protect any full-service broadcast station. The LPFM may be forced to shut down if it will cause interference with a full-service station, even if the LPFM was there first.

If an LPFM’s signal is “splattering” into another frequency (broadcasting or causing interference on another channel other than the one it was authorized to broadcast on), it is up to the LPFM’s license holder to suspend operation until the problem has been corrected, and submit a report to the FCC with full details of the problem and steps taken to correct it.

No person who has ever taken part in unlicensed broadcasting (asked under the penalty of perjury), may be granted an LPFM license.

LPFM licenses are granted based on the point system established by the FCC: (1) Established community presence of the organization, (2) pledge to operate at least 12 hours a day, and (3) eight hours of each day’s programming must be originated locally.

LPFM station owners are allowed to “time share” with other organizations.

Adding a booster or a translator can be a nice way to bring in listeners living in under-served areas or areas with poor reception. This means a better, clearer signal, more people served, a larger audience listening to your radio station, and often times, more profit for the bottom line. Consider these steps and guidelines if adding a booster or obtaining an LPFM license would be beneficial to your interests.

This post is part of a series of posts on Radio Station & Broadcast Law: 47 CFR 73 – 74 & More

Leave a Public Comment

  • cary walker
    September 30, 2015, 3:42 pm

    I am looking for someone to help me license and FM low power station in Tombstone Arizona and another license in Victorville California please contact me let me know approximate cost and time frame phone number 760 951-5555