Thirty years ago I was completing my Masters of Mass Communication degree at Arizona State University in 1986 while I was GM of KCSU, Fort Collins, Colorado. The topic of my thesis is “the channel six problem,” an issue created by the FCC and big corporate broadcasting. The ruling fluke pitted noncommercial radio broadcasters against television stations.
I was fortunate to have the perfect location to do the field test for my thesis: Colorado’s Front Range. KCSU was/is located in Fort Collins about sixty miles north of Denver. The transmission site for KRMA-TV channel si, was near Denver. There were a dozen noncom FM stations located in KRMA’s "theoretical coverage area" in 1986.
This is the third of three reports based on research for my Masters thesis. To demonstrate the real world impact of “the channel six problem” to Colorado noncommercial radio stations I interviewed General Managers and engineers at all 12 stations.
IMPACT TO NONCOMMERCIAL BROADCASTERS BECAUSE OF INTERFERENCE TO KRMA-TV CHANNEL SIX AS OF 1986
Viewers of the off-air signal of KRMA-TV, channel six, experienced disruption in the reception of KRMA from nearby noncom stations. Most of the actual interference occurred in areas that were 20 to 70 miles from KRMA’s transmitter site near Denver. Radio stations causing the interferece were required by the FCC to install filters (called “traps”) on TV sets of anyone who complained about problems receiving channel six. This denied thousands of people noncom FM service.
Mediating actual interference was only a part of cost to Front Range noncommercial stations. The legal consequences were far greater. KRMA’s “theoretical coverage area” was protected space. In this zone, regardless of the terrain or reality, KRMA could ask the FCC to deny any change of facilities. For instance, KAJX in Aspen could not increase its power because of the rules, even though KRMA could not be received over the air in Aspen.
KGNU & KUNC SUFFERED THE MOST DAMAGE DUE TO CHANNEL SIX PROBLEMS
From 1956 until 1978 KRMA-TV handled applications for new noncommercial radio stations on a case-by-case basis. That policy ended in 1978 when KGNU 88.5 FM in Boulder signed on. There were so many viewer complaints of interference that KRMA-TV filed a “cease and desist” order knocking KGNU off the air. KRMA later allowed KGNU to return to the air at greatly reduced power. From that moment, KRMA opposed every new noncommercial station or facility change within its “theoretical coverage area.”
Perhaps the worst damage to the noncommercial stations was damage to their reputations. Because the FM stations caused the interference to channel six many people publically questioned the FM station’s motives. Here are samples of the viewer complaints about KUNC's interference to KRMA-TV:
KRMA finally allowed KUNC to change its transmission site to a more rural location but it took years for KUNC to regain the trust of the public.
A “MAN-MADE PROBLEM” THE FCC REFUSED TO FIX
From the moment the FCC bowed to the big radio manufacturers and broadcasters in 1945, the FCC new it had created a major problem. These are some of the consequences:
• FM broadcasting between 42 and 50 mHz was moved to 88 to 108 mHz causing a once-successful part of American media to die. Transmitters and receivers became obsolete. It took decades for FM to regain the lost ground.
• It turned out that the TV industry didn’t need the place on the spectrum FM once had. TV Channel One never became a reality.
• The mess cost noncom stations millions of dollars nationally. Channel six broadcasters also endured significant costs.
• Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, the “inventor” of FM, jumped to his death from a New York skyscraper on January 31, 1954, a broke and bitter man.
It is sad but ironic that none of this needed to happen. It did because the FCC refused to face reality and put financial greed before service to the public. It reminds me of what is happening now with HD Radio.