by Gary Liebisch, Nautel Sales Manager, Eastern USA

The TV repack is now underway, and a significant number of FM stations will be impacted as innocent bystanders. A study commissioned by the NAB and conducted by VSoft Communications indicates about 678 FM licenses may be disrupted by tower and antenna work being done on the facilities of co-located TV stations. In order to comply with RF radiation standards, these FMs may need to greatly reduce power, go off the air, or operate from alternate sites while the work is being done. The study also shows that over 60% of these do not presently have off-site auxiliary facilities to operate from during the transition work. An aux antenna on the same tower as the main may be of little consolation due to the nature of the rigging and climbing which can impact use of the entire tower. To make matters worse, about 100 FMs are affected by 3 or more TV stations and some by as many as 6.

Source: Report for NAB by VSoft Communications

Stations impacted should now be actively engaged in seeking a new off-site auxiliary antenna or at least one for which an STA might be obtained. Of course there is a value beyond the repack in having such an off-site auxiliary antenna as part of a comprehensive disaster plan. Possible sites include a studio STL tower, an AM tower (with complications), tall buildings, water towers, and even one of your competitor’s towers. If you are NOT impacted, you might even consider leasing space on a temporary basis to other stations who are.

The primary site consideration for applying for a new aux site is to not exceed the station’s authorized 1 mv (60 dBu) contour. This might be challenging for some directional FM stations. Other considerations include ability to get an STL shot to the site, intermod, harmonics, and LTE interference potential at the site, and the site’s long term viability. In some markets, several stations team together to create a multi-station aux site. Due to the fact that we are already on a running clock, file as soon as possible.

How, if at all, do you recoup some or all of your costs to building a new aux site? Until recently, there was no money set aside in the repack budget to reimburse FM stations who were innocent bystanders. But earlier this year Congress appropriated an additional $1 billion for the repack, of which up to $50 million will be set aside for radio. That averages out to about $118K per impacted station, but there will be no easy money here. As in the TV repack, every penny must be justified and will be tightly scrutinized. But we are better off than we were a year ago on this point.

It would be false complacency to say today that the repack hasn’t started yet in your market and that you have “plenty of time”.

Source: FCC Incentive Auction and Post Auction Transition

Deadlines contained in the FCC repack schedule (10 phases) are the dates for PROGRAM TESTING for the TV stations. Your FM aux facility has to be way ahead of that. Filing and processing applications takes time. Broadcast engineers tend to do a lot of projects by the seat of their pants, and that won’t do this time. It will require a discipline of project management skills that takes into consideration all the interdependencies in the time line. Tower crews may not be immediately available, lead times for antennas and transmitters may be significant, and there may well be other unforeseen delays. Make sure you are having a dialog with your co-located TV station(s), or are having group discussions on the challenges at local SBE meetings. Know which phase your timeline is tied to.

In summary, if you are affected, start planning now! Consider a site that is long term viable, file timely applications for new aux facilities or an STL, and discipline yourself and your management on project management skills. You’ll live or die by the timetable!

View Gary’s presentation on this topic from the Nautel Users’ Group meeting at NAB 2018… Repack Victim >

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