Eleven years ago, one wily guy made a spectrum-grab on the FM dial of unprecedented proportions. Using a custom program and a bank of computers, Clark Parrish filed for more than 4,000 FM translator construction permits during a short application window for translators in 2003.
Operating under two corporate identities, Edgewater Broadcasting and Radio Assist Ministry, Parrish put the permits on the market. In fact, his gambit created an entirely new market for FM translator stations. Over the last decade, that’s netted RAM/EB and other religious broadcasters who got in on the game millons of dollars from hundreds of sales, many involving the nation’s largest broadcasters, who deploy FM translators as automated outlets typically fed by out-of-market or HD2/3 programming. Since translator stations are considered a secondary broadcast service, they don’t count against the FCC’s radio ownership caps. Continue reading “Translator-mongers Brag About Gaming System”
The abuse of FM translators continues unabated, and may be more insidious than anyone realizes – including (and especially) the FCC.
First there was Clark Parrish, the mastermind who swamped the FCC’s license-application system during a 2003 filing window for new translators. He applied for thousands of stations under the guise of two shell corporations – Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting – with the intent of selling them off to other broadcasters so that he could build his own full-power religious radio empire with the proceeds.
The FCC, in response to outcry over such blatant sentimentalizing, froze a goodly portion of his translator applications in 2005. The entire mess remains unresolved today, though the FCC must untangle it before moving forward with an expansion of the LPFM radio service. Continue reading “Completing the Cycle of Translator Abuse: Hopping Madness”
The Columbia Journalism Review has just published “Out of Thin Air,” which is without a doubt the most comprehensive treatment done by a mainstream media outlet to date on the on the speculation and trafficking of FM translator stations. The 3,600-word piece does an admirable job of unpacking some of the technically-challenging aspects of this complicated story.
However, it is not without its share of mistakes, some of which are big enough to somewhat obscure the real nature of the story at hand. Continue reading “CJR On Godcasting Invasion”
It’s a sickening benchmark to behold, and yet it represents only a fraction of an overall speculation and trafficking marketplace in-progress for FM spectrum ostensibly for noncommercial use.
Here is where our story left off last: Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting (which are actually one and the same) filed more than 4,000 FM translator construction permit applications during a 2003 FCC filing window for new FM translator stations. In less than two years RAM/EB booked more than $800,000 in revenue by selling batches of translator construction permits to evangelistic mega-churches in the South and West (although a host of smaller transactions also took place).
These churches, in effect, bought permission to build state-wide or regional networks through speculators who snapped up the permits en masse, just for this very purpose. Continue reading “FM Translator Speculators Become Millionaires”
Things are in a somewhat strange state of flux at the FCC regarding the controversy involving speculation and trafficking in FM translator stations, at the expense of spectrum for more LPFM outlets. On March 18 the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which seeks to expand the LPFM service; it also included a six-month freeze on the processing of any more translator applications from the flood dumped on the agency in 2003. However, the rulemaking itself has yet to be formally published in the Federal Register.
Publication in the Register is an important step in the regulatory process. Typically, agencies do not start the clock on a regulatory proceeding until it has been formally published in the Register. In this case, it would formally start the FCC’s comment and reply-comment period, which is supposed to run for up to 45 days following Register publication. Continue reading “Translator Crusades: D.C. Update”
A couple of noteworthy but skewed articles published this week. USA Today picked up on the FM translator spectrum trafficking scandal and, like the caricature of journalism that it is, talked with “both sides” for “equal time.” This allowed Radio Assist Ministry/Edgewater Broadcasting president Clark Parrish the chance to tell some tall tales unchallenged.
Parrish claims the call for an investigation into his trafficking operation is “sour grapes.” He says he plans to start a new nationwide religious broadcast network via FM translator, which may rebroadcast American Family Radio (another translator-monger). And, most importantly, the small number of construction permits he’s sold to others (for $800,000+) were just chaff – leftover permits he’s since decided not to build as part of his network. Continue reading “Press Corrections: Pod/Godcasting”
Today REC Networks, Prometheus Radio Project, and a gaggle of D.C. media advocacy groups filed an emergency petition with the FCC for a freeze on the processing of translator applications from 2003. That was the application window in which 13,000+ applications were filed, of which 4,000+ were part of a scheme to provide turnkey radio networks to religious broadcasters.
The petition reports that World Radio Link, Inc. is apparently the marketing arm of the scheme. It advertised prominently at the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention last month that it
[r]epresents the two largest filers of FM translator applications in the FCC’s most recent FM filing window. These two applicants, Radio Assist Ministry and Edgewater Broadcasting, are making available for acquisition hundreds of these FM translator station construction permits to existing or new entrant Christian broadcasters throughout the country. Continue reading “Translator Invasion Freeze Petition Filed”
While the proliferation of FM translator stations by religious broadcast groups arguably constitutes spectrum abuse, it’s just one perspective on a larger problem. Religious broadcasters are not only snapping up translator channels on which real community LPFM stations might have been sited, they’re also engaged in LPFM broadcasting.
A recent SF Chronicle story illustrates how Calvary Chapel organizes LPFM station affiliate growth:
This month, the Calvary Chapel Radio Ministry of Costa Mesa in Orange County hosted 170 mostly Christian low-power broadcasters, offering them operational tips as well as up to “16 hours per day, seven days a week” of programming beamed in via satellite, according to its Web site. Continue reading “Religious Broadcasting As Franchise Operation”
Thanks to curious loopholes in the FCC’s FM licensing rules, several religious broadcast companies have created national networks on the cheap using low-power, mostly-automated FM transmitters. Using their intimate familiarity with FCC bureaucracy, these companies also engage in spectrum hoarding and speculation.
The practice of spectrum speculation is nothing new, it’s a kind of side-industry in the broadcast business. Although they very seldom actually build a radio station, speculators apply for and acquire radio station construction permits and then sell them to the highest bidder. Channel spaces on the FM dial are a finite commodity – where supply is low and demand high a savvy speculator can make quite a bit of money if they have permits to build radio stations in growing markets. Continue reading “God Squads Fall From Grace”