The FCC has refused to allow the licensee of an FM translator to offer smartphones as a solution to interference to FM radio reception in Michigan.
A new radio station was launched in Detroit in April. Smooth jazz station "Oasis 104.7" broadcast over the HD2 subchannel of WGPR-107.5 -- and in analog over translator station W284BQ.
FM translators are not allowed to cause interference to full-power "regular" FM stations. Even if the normal engineering methods suggest no interference should occur, if complaints of actual interference are received, the translator must either make technical changes to eliminate it, or cease operations.
Translator W284BQ operates on 104.7 in Detroit. When it began operation this spring, listeners in Ypsilanti, Belleville and Taylor, Michigan contacted full-power station WIOT, on the same frequency in Toledo, Ohio 50 miles to the south, complaining of interference to WIOT's signal.
In July, the owners of W284BQ modified its antenna to reduce signal to the south, in the direction of the complainants. This seems to have resolved five of the 28 complaints. Another thirteen could not be contacted or refused to cooperate; and one doesn't listen to WIOT anymore & doesn't care about the interference.
W284BQ offered the remaining nine complainants free smartphones with the iheartradio.com application. This can be used to listen to participating radio stations online; WIOT is one of the stations that participates in this program. The translator agreed to pay both for the smartphone hardware, and the airtime charges. Eight of the nine accepted the offer.
However, WIOT doesn't buy in to this plan. They gave the FCC several areas of concern:
- WIOT may discontinue participation in iheartradio.com;
- The wireless network may fail;
- Smartphone listeners won't hear unstreamed content; (some material may not be licensed for broadcast over the Internet, where it may be heard in other markets where someone else has the rights)
- It's not entirely certain W284BQ would continue to pay the airtime fees indefinitely.
WIOT also mentioned 58 additional complaints. While they didn't explicitly say so, it would seem the smartphone solution doesn't do anything for listeners who might not listen to WIOT now, but who might hear the station & decide to listen to it in the future -- unless they can't receive it due to interference from W284BQ.
The FCC raised three additional issues:
- WIOT only forwarded complaints from listeners living within the station's "protected contour". The translator is responsible for resolving all complaints. (and given the densely populated area in which such interference is likely to occur, there are likely to be many such complaints.)
- Who's responsible for maintenance? If one of the smartphones is damaged or lost, will the translator pay for its repair or replacement?
- How can a cash-strapped FCC monitor & enforce compliance with such an unusual solution?
The Commission has decided W284BQ's solution is not workable. Pursuant to regulation 74.1203, a translator that interferes with a "regular" station must be shut down -- and the FCC has so ordered.