More than a dozen FM radio stations broadcasting on a frequency that overlaps with an analog television channel will be allowed to remain on the air permanently after previously receiving Special Temporary Authorization (STA) grants.
The ancillary operation permits were awarded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to 14 so-called “Franken FMs,” which broadcast on 87.75 FM. The same frequency was used to transmit an audio signal on analog television channel 6, and can be conventionally received with analog and digital FM stereo tuners on 87.7 FM.
The radio stations have been technically licensed as low-power analog television stations for years, even after consumer broadcast television signals were switched from analog transmissions to digital in 2011. The FCC began requiring Franken FMs to receive a waiver to operate on TV channel 6 after July 2021.
Several Franken FM owners did just that, and on Thursday, the FCC said it had approved 14 ancillary grant applications, which will allow the stations to remain on the air for a little while longer.
The stations whose ancillary permits were approved on a permanent include:
- KBKF in San Jose, California
- KEFM in Sacramento
- KGHD in Las Vegas
- KRPE in San Diego
- KXDP in Denver
- KZNO in Big Bear Lake, California
- WDCN in Fairfax, Virginia
- WEYS in Miami
- WNYZ in New York City
- WMTO in Norfolk, Virginia
- WPGF in Memphis
- WRME in Chicago
- WTBS in Atlanta
- WVOA in Westvale, New York
Nearly all the stations operate a commercial business, but some provide a not-for-profit service to the community. A few stations, including KEFM, operate using newer broadcast technology called ATSC 3.0, or “NextGen TV.”
“Listeners have tuned to existing FM6 LPTV stations for foreign language, religious and sports programming; programming intended to support historically underserved populations such as native Spanish speakers, immigrant populations; and programming designed for niche music audiences,” Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairperson of the FCC, said in a statement. “In addition, existing [radio transmissions on low-power channel 6 TV] stations provide emergency and public safety information that their listeners have come to rely upon in times of disasters.”
The FCC has not decided on whether it will approve applications submitted by radio broadcasters to operate on analog TV channel 6.
The regulator’s decision this week drew applause from a number of broadcast industry groups, including the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the main lobbying organization for commercial radio and TV stations.
“NAB thanks the FCC and the Media Bureau staff for its fair and efficient resolution of the use of the TV channel 6 frequency band by low-power TV stations to provide ancillary audio programming,” Curtis LeGeyt, the CEO of NAB, said on Thursday. “The order adopted by the Commission today will protect channel 6 television operators while recognizing the audience built by existing FM6 stations. We support the FCC’s balanced approach that addresses long-standing questions surrounding this complex issue.”
The FCC says the STA grants will come with certain conditions: Low-power TV stations that operate as FM radio outlets will have to maintain a public inspection file, must convert their signals to use the ATSC 3.0 broadcast technology and are required to provide at least one video signal. The stations must also rebroadcast messages received through the Emergency Alert System on their radio and television signals.
Simultaneously, the FCC rejected a request from public radio program distributor NPR to allocate the 82.0 FM to 88.0 FM spectrum for public radio broadcasts in areas where those channels are not being used to transmit television signals. That spectrum is reserved for audio transmissions on analog TV channel 6.