Friday, June 17, 2011

HD on FM Translators

I should admit now that I am in favor of AM stations with FM translators. I am however not in favor of HD sub-channels with FM translators. (...and not fond of HD radio in general) Less than 1% of Americans have HD radios. The populous is totally unanimous in it's collective disinterest. Nonetheless is continues to exist. As the Broadcast Law blog cited about six weeks ago the FCC, on May 3rd  ruled in favor of Saga Communications — W277BS could carry programming as an analog FM translator for WYXL-HD2. It was now official.

ROI Broadcasting filed a petition against this because they interpreted it as a way to circumvent the rules regarding ownership limits. That's because in every practical sense of the law it does. Saga is licensed to operate 3 FM and 2 AM radio stations in the Ithaca, NY metro: WHCU-AM, WNYY-AM, WYXL, WQNY, WHII and three FM translators, W277BS, W240CB, and W262AD. The translators do not count towards that limit. W240CB and W240CB translate WQNY. W262AD translates WHII. This is the maximum number of stations that Saga can operate in this metro as it only contains 11 stations total. More here. Previous to this HD fandango,  W277BS was a translator for 107.9 WPHR (now WSYR) in Auburn, NY. Presently, it carries the HD2 sub-channel WYXL which is branded as Hits 103.3.

So how on earth did a repeater in Auburn repeating WSYR out of Syracuse move to Ithaca?  Well it was on 98.3 originally and at lower power. It's now on 103.3 at 250 watts. ROI broadcasting sees this as moving a new station into the market, and for 99% of listeners it is. But the reality that as long as it's carrying programming from an HD2 or HD3 channel, the programming already originates from within the market.  Hypothetically, ROI is open to do the same thing supposing they have a spare $100,000 dollars laying around, and can find space in the band to add FM translators.[source]

So ROI Broadcasting, (owners of WFIZ) lost the argument. as a result, the floodgates opened and a piddle of stations made the change. Most notably in Atlanta.  It starts with the ballad of WNNX, in September1992 when an alternative rock radio icon was born. They broke singles, began careers, sold records and had a good time. In 2006 it was bought by Cumulus who noted a ratings slide on a station that probably peaked in 1994.

They euthanized it on January 30th 2008. The frequency 99.7 became WWWQ, a cookie-cutter CHR/Pop station swapping calls with 100.5. The 99X brand and playlist was moved to the 99.7 WWQ-HD2 signal and a webcast. The WNNX call letters moved to 100.5, left atop a drab modern rock playlist that at least had moderately better ratings. 100.5 previously was outside the city of Atlanta, it's move-in in 2001 killed 102.5 WGHR at Southern Polytechnic State University. (Though it continues to webcast.)

Then in 2009... long before the rumble in Ithaca, 99X was doing the same thing. From April 17, 2009 until June 15, 2011 it was on 97.9 W250BC . At 250 watts it covered most of Atlanta with a city-grade signal. 99.5 originally was a 6-watt translator for WCLK. In 2009 it was sold and became a repeater for 100.5 WNNX which is how we got to where we are today.  Just a few days ago they moved it again to 99.1 W258BU-FM, mostly trying to make sense of their brand you can't leave 99X on 97.9. That'd be just silly. But the reality of the situation cant be avoided. This is a station, brand and format that died a natural death in Atlanta with 96,000 watts 3 years ago. There is no reason to think it will succeed at 99 watts.
But after all that I do have one lingering issue. No matter where they put 99X, it will have crappy ratings. It will persist not because it has listeners, but because automation is cheap. It'll be automated, and run off a server with a little voice-tracking. The programming doesn't really originate on WWWQ-HD2 any more than the programming of Hits 103.3 originates at WYXL-HD2. In effect these stations are webstreams, that are re-broadcast on the FM band. The servers from whence those streams actually originate could be in Atlanta, Auburn, Ithaca, Denver, or even Berlin. Despite all pretense to the contrary... if it ain't live, it ain't local.