Frequently Asked Questions about FM Translators

Frequently Asked Questions about Translators

K212AA, Los Gatos, California, Translator for KUSP, Santa Cruz, California
  • What is a translator?

    Translators are radio or television transmitters designed to provide coverage in areas that cannot receive the primary signal of an FM or TV station. They are licensed by the FCC as a "secondary service", meaning that if another station comes along on the operating frequency of the translator, the translator has to find a new frequency or cease operation. TV translators were originally developed to provide service in the mountain west (Colorado, Montana and Wyoming), and the FCC reluctantly created a licensing procedure for them. So many were on the air without license by that time that it seemed obvious that the public needed such a service. FM translator licenses were created about the same time for the same purpose.

  • Why would a station need a translator?

    FM and TV stations are subject to the laws of physics, in a similar way that visible light is. In other words, if there is something in the path between the station and your receiver, the signal will be distorted or weakened by the object that is blocking the path. Also, FM and TV signals can also be reflected from flat surfaces (like high-rise buildings and bridges). This causes an effect called "multi-path". Simply put, "multi-path" occurs when the signal reaches your receiver from more than one direction (path), and interferes with itself. It sounds like a rush of noise or fuzzy distortion, and can change dramatically from one location to another.

    FM and TV translators can help to "fill-in" these weak or distorted signal areas. A translator is a signal repeater; it can receive an FM or TV station, translate the signal to a different frequency on the FM or TV band and broadcast it on the different frequency or channel. Depending on the location, a translator can operate with up to 250 watts on FM and up to 1000 watts for certain types of TV translators.

  • Can a station put a translator in a town outside of it's main coverage area?

    Yes, but only non-commercial stations are allowed to do so. Commercial translators must provide a fill-in service within the primary coverage area of the commercial station being carried. The exception to this is when the commercial translator is owned by a third party (like an association or group) that has the intention to bring a station into an unserved area. FCC rules restrict this kind of translator to make sure that there is no connection between the commercial station and the community group, in an effort to reduce unfair competition with other commercial broadcasters.

  • Can an individual own a translator?

    Yes! If you desire to rebroadcast a station, you can apply for and operate a translator. If you wish to translate a commercial station, a filing fee is required with the submission of the application to the FCC. If you plan to re-broadcast a non-commercial station, no filing fee is required.

  • How can I find about translators in my area, or apply for one?

    Call or e-mail my office, and I will be glad to provide you with more information!

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    © 1996 Broadcast Engineering Services of Bonny Doon