Thursday, July 2, 2015


I received quite a few inquiries from public radio station folks who are interested In turning their HD LEMONS into new FM stations. Several NPR stations have done this or have made plans to it such as WHQR, Wilmington, WUFT, Gainesville and WFIU, Bloomington, Indiana [click to see yesterday’s column].

Some of the folks who inquired have said that they don’t think FM translators can cover enough area to be a for-real FM station.  This is true in some locations. But changing FCC rules and sophisticated signal planning are allowing broadcasters in much of the US to make INSTANT FM possible.

Today we will look at three hypothetical opportunities for new public radio stations in Memphis, Knoxville and Albuquerque. This is 30,000 feet consulting and doesn’t account for unique factors on the ground. I am not an attorney or a RF engineer (though I still have my First Phone from back in the day.) Corrections on this information are welcome.


This discussion concerns what the FCC calls Non-Fill-In translators – ones that operate outside of the coverage area of their primary stations. An FM translator can be owned by almost anyone who is a US citizen. They may not originate local programming except in a few places such as rural Alaska. They MUST repeat an AM or FM station. Since 2010, FM translators can repeat HD channels.

No FCC prior approval is needed when a translator changes the primary station. According to FCC rules:

If the licensee of an FM translator station wants to change the primary station being rebroadcast, it may do so without prior authority from the Commission.  If the translator is owned by an entity other than the owner of the new primary FM station, the owner must secure the permission of the primary station to rebroadcast its programming before commencing operation.

Complete FCC rules for FM translators are at [link].

In most locations an FM translator can broadcast a maximum effective-radiated-power (“ERP”) of 250 watts. Power varies by the height of the tower location.  Height is usually the most important factor


[I love Memphis.  My favorite PRPD conference was held there in 1999 at the Peabody Hotel.]

WKNO is the only major public radio outlet. It programs a dual format: NPR News and Classical in nearly equal blocks of time. This is often a balancing act. Observers say that WKNO is an under-performing NPR station.  Here is the top-line data from May 2015 Nielsen Audio PPM report:

WKNO started HD2 and HD3 broadcasts in 2007.  There is no evidence I’ve seen of significant listening to either channel. This is an HD RADIO LEMON.

Suppose WKNO acquired (and maybe upgraded) an FM translator with coverage like W244BY FM 96.7:

Presto! WKNO has two FM stations, one with NPR News 24/7, the other with classical music 24/7.  Both news and music listeners would be overjoyed.


Knoxville is a terrific university city with almost a million people.  WUOT has a dual format of NPR News and Classical.  It operates an HD2 channel without music success.

The most recent ratings info I could find in my files is an Arbitron report from Fall 2009:

71     Knoxville
                  WUOT        43     5.2    666   9.9             49     880   7.0

WOUT was doing pretty well then and I assume they are doing well now.  But things would be a lot better if they had two 24/7 FM stations specializing in NPR News and Classical for metro listeners.

Suppose WKNO acquired (and maybe upgraded) an FM translator with coverage like W264CJ FM 100.7:

Presto! Happy campers.


There are two NPR News outlets in Albuquerque, sort of.  Both KUNM and KANW have multiple formats.  Both have a lot of listeners according to the Nielsen Audio Fall 2014 report:

KANW carries Morning Edition and other news programs until Noon.  Then, they air what they call New Mexico Spanish Music until the next morning. [New Mexico Spanish Music sounds like old-school Ranchero mixed with singer-songwriters – think Tish Hinojosa.]

KANW’s Spanish music gets LOTS of listeners and provides a valuable public service.  But KANW is really two radio stations.

KUNM carries Morning Edition and ATC.  The rest of the schedule is an eclectic mix of music, Community Radio warhorses like Democracy Now and plenty of freeform music chosen by each individual host.  We reported   why KUNM has lots of freeform [link].

Suppose KANW or KUNM acquired (and maybe upgraded) an FM translator with coverage like K255AQ FM 98.9:


Feel free to contact me at for more information.

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