The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Thursday, September 12, 2002
TEST THIS: During the last big fight over low-power FM -- the one that ended with Congress killing the concept for anyone who wanted to start a station in a substantially populated area -- the established radio industry raised a big stink over the idea of broadcasting on third-adjacent channels. In plain English, that means they didn't want new outlets transmitting too close to the older stations on the dial, for fear that this would cause interference. Folks like
me argued that the chatter about interference was a red herring, and that what they really wanted to prevent was new competition.

When Congress put its restrictions on low-power FM, it threw a bone to the opposition by asking the Federal Communications Commission to "test" third-adjacent broadcasting, to see if it can be done without causing problems. And now the FCC is preparing to conduct those tests. But as Scott Fybush notes in the NorthEast Radio Watch, the agency could save itself a lot of effort if it would just look at those places where, for one reason or another, third-adjacent stations already exist.

"We've raged before about the inanity of the third-adjacent rules," Fybush writes, "and we'll keep on doing it. Look at Newton, where WZBC 90.3 is just down the road from full class B WBUR (90.9). Look at Corning, N.Y., where WSQE (91.1) shares a tower with a co-owned translator on second-adjacent 90.7. Look at Toronto, where CFXJ (93.5) gets along just fine with super-B CBL-FM (94.1) on the CN Tower nearby. The real-life evidence that third-adjacent spacing works is out there, and there's no need for another series of 'tests.' But it's all about the politics, not the engineering reality..."

Even if you don't comprehend all the jargon, I'm sure you get the point. If you don't, just reread Fybush's final sentence.

If anything, the focus on third-adjacent channels understates how many unnecessary entry barriers confront would-be broadcasters. As I've lately made a career of saying, we could have a radio dial with the diversity and flexibility of the Internet, if only the government would tear down the walls it's built to protect the big broadcast interests. Instead, even the most modest proposal to allow low-power FM gets cut to ribbons, the FCC makes a big deal out of investigating questions it already knows the answers to, and -- oh, yeah -- elsewhere in Washington, another agency introduces new rules that will effectively squash Internet radio.

The biggest joke? People say modern broadcasting is "deregulated."


posted by Jesse 3:05 PM
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