The Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, Idaho is the single largest abuser of FM translator stations, also known as repeaters. They’re low-power FM stations, typically around 10 watts, that are licensed only to rebroadcast the signal of full-power station. With commercial stations, translators have to be within a certain distance of the full-power station. But with non-commercial stations there’s no limit to the distance.
Thus many evangelical Christian broadcasters have been able to create huge networks of translator stations to give them nationwide coverage for much less dough than it would cost to do so with full-power stations. The Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls is the Clear Channel of Christian translator station broadcasting, with 325 translator stations (in addition to 30 full-power stations).
The one big problem with translator stations is that they’re second class citizens on the dial. While the FCC will let them squeeze into the dial, even in places where Congress currently prohibits LPFM stations at similar power levels, they have to give way if there are any interference complaints, or if an application for a full-power station demonstrates it could use the frequency used by a translator.
Thus many in the legal LPFM movement have noticed an apparent effort on the part of Calvary Chapel to slip some licensed LPFM stations into its flock. However, unlike translators, FCC rules require that LPFM stations be locally owned and operated within the community they’re licensed to. And places like Prescott, AZ are an awfully long distance away from Twin Falls, ID.
Because the FCC’s LPFM licensing procedures are intended to be relatively quick and unbureaucratic, it looks like Calvary Chapel has just gotten three people in various communities to say they’d be the local licensees on the application. But the veneer of legitimacy is pretty thin.
According to REC Networks, a LPFM-friendly organization, the FCC has rejected 30 LPFM applications from Calvary Chapels all over the Southwest that don’t seem all that different from one another:
“FCC Audio Bureau Chief Peter Doyle stated that even though the applications have satisifed the requirement that the local chapters of the national Calvary Chapel organization are incorporated in their own local area separately from the national organization with which it is affilliated, Doyle points out that ‘there is nothing in their statements of educational purpose to distinguish these applicants from other Calvary Chapel applicants who filed identical applications for LPFM stations, or national Calvary Chapel radio companies such as CSN International and Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls that own numerous full-service and FM translator stations throughout the country.’
Doyle continues, ‘Indeed, nothing in the educational purpose of the application references the community of license in any way or demonstrates ‘a local purpose that can be distinguished from the purpose of the national organizatoin with which it is affiliated.’
It’s a little reassuring to know that the FCC isn’t completely asleep at the wheel and is reading the LPFM apps. Given the practical impossibility of the FCC to monitor the LPFM stations that go on the air, LPFM is ripe for abuse by godcasters that will pervert a service that was designed to be local into being just another satellite-fed drone in the ether.
Of course, that doesn’t do anything about the hundreds of “non-profit” godcaster translator stations that currently exist, eating up precious local FM spectrum that might be better used to repeat a nearby community or college station.
If there are any communications students looking for a good paper or thesis topic, here’s a good one: research how the translator rules got created so that they are so radically different for non-commercial stations. Major lobbying from right-wing Christian congresscritters must be involved, but that’s only a guess.