NPR to FCC: Drive a Stake Into LPTV 'Franken FMs'

NPR says that, all things considered, the FCC should not allow LPTV stations on ch. 6 to continue to operate analog FM radio services, services they brand "Franken FM's that pose an interference threat to public radio stations. 

The FCC's whose Media Bureau is seeking comment on whether analog LPTV stations should be able to continue to program an analog radio service after the deadline to switch to digital. 

While full power stations were required to go all digital in 2009, the FCC allowed LPTVs to continue to broadcast in analog until 12 months after the completion of the post-incentive auction repack, currently on track to meet its July 3, 2020 deadline, which means LPTVs would have to make the digital switch by July 3, 2021. 

Some analog LPTVs (operating on ch. 6) use their spectrum to program an ancillary audio service available on the FM dial (87.76 MHz) and want to continue to be able to deliver that analog signal after the mandatory transition to digital. 

Related: FCC Seeks Input on Analog FM LPTVs 

But NPR says no way. 

"These so-called “Franken FM” or 'LPTV6' stations exploit regulatory gaps to transmit a silent video signal for TV receivers and an unrelated audio service for reception by FM radios tuned to 87.7 – with each Franken FM occupying 30 times the spectrum a traditional FM station uses," it told the commission. "With the upcoming mandatory DTV transition, the Commission should no longer allow this misuse of the public airwaves." 

And not because it wants to eliminate a competing FM radio service, at least according to its filing. 

NPR says its reason for opposing the continued service is that "an ongoing threat of harmful interference to public radio stations operating in the immediately adjacent FM band reserved for noncommercial educational ('NCE') broadcast stations." It also says the LPTV service keeps adjacent noncom stations from expanding their coverage of offering new services. 

LPTVs have argued that shutting off the service could reduce programming diversity and service to underserved audiences. But NPR says the "Franken FM's" are typically established formats like “country,” “contemporary,” “Spanish language,” “religious,” and “sports,” formats already delivered by "actual FM radio stations." 

NPR says that if the FCC does not kill the Franken FM's, it must come up with new rules to make sure they don't interfere with noncom signals as well as insuring their primary video signals gets to DTV receivers. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.