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FCC Allows FM Boosters to Originate 3 Minutes of Programming Per Hour

Last week, the FCC finally released its decision regarding its FM Booster programming content rules. Since the 1970s, the FCC has authorized FM on-channel boosters to help improve the signal reach of the primary station. Unlike translators, boosters operate on the same channel as the primary station. Because of the potential for co-channel interference, the FCC has been careful with these facilities. On-channel boosters can operate only within the contours of the primary stations. Also, the rules prohibited a booster from originating any content. All content had to be the same as the primary station.   

The rule prohibiting originated programming on booster stations has now been changed. Stations will be allowed to originate programming on their boosters subject to specific limitations. The key limits are that stations may only originate for three minutes per hour and only own 25 boosters that originate programming. The FCC noted:

“[W]e find that program origination over boosters will advance the public interest with benefits that outweigh the concerns expressed in the comments, subject to the following safeguards and limitations:  a limitation on program origination to three minutes per hour (five percent of each hour); a notification requirement for program originating boosters; a requirement for program originating boosters to receive and broadcast all emergency alerts in the same manner as their primary station; and a limit on the number of boosters a station can operate.  We note this use of boosters will be voluntary and find that granting this level of flexibility to broadcasters is consistent with our ongoing policy goal of supporting the continued viability of the radio industry for the benefit of the listening public and helping to ensure that radio remains competitive with other technologies and services.  To the extent that broadcasters choose to use boosters in this way, however, they will be required to follow the rules that we adopt herein as well as any conditions on operations that the Commission might impose when it grants authorizations."

Importantly, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making asking for comment on a number of proposed rules. Those rules include:

  • Notification to FCC about boosters that originate programming.

  • Amending 47 CFR § 74.1204(f) and propose that booster stations submit a predicted interference for areas outside the station's contour analysis during construction.

  • Should the FCC adopt rules requiring synchronization between the booster and the primary station?

  • Boosters must comply with EAS. FCC asks if they must notify all EAS participants who monitor the primary station and booster.

  • Grandfathered superpowered FM stations can only use a new booster within the standardized contour of the station.

  • Booster stations may not broadcast programming prohibited by the primary station.

  • FCC proposes to cap the number of originating booster stations at 25.

  • FCC proposes that originating booster stations should be subject to FCC political rules, including online inspection and political files. The issue is whether these files should be included in the primary station's file or a separate file.

  • FCC solicits comments on how its new booster policy impacts diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Until these rules are approved, the FCC will allow stations to originate programming on their booster stations only on an experimental license for one year. The authorization will be renewable. Experimental licenses can be obtained for existing boosters. For new boosters, a station must obtain a construction permit and, at the same time, file for experimental authorization to originate programming. The FCC stated further that the Media Bureau must condition any experimental authorization, the licensee’s adherence to the rules proposed in the Further Notice, and any additional, appropriate conditions.  

This was a highly controversial issue that began several years ago when GeoBroadcast Solutions (GBS) stated it had technology that would allow boosters to originate programming without harmful interference to the primary station. GBS claimed that this would allow radio stations to geotarget advertising. The proposal was opposed by the NAB and a number of radio groups. They raised both technical concerns as well as potential harm to the radio advertising market. (NYSBA raised concerns about the aggregate levels of interference that could be caused by numerous boosters providing different programming). 

The FCC’s decision can be described as cautious. While endorsing the concept, the key issue will be the potential limitations resulting from the proposed licensing and service rules. 

You can see the FCC’s decision here.


1 Comment

All content had to be the same as the primary station.    backrooms game

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