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Opening up old TV channels 5 and 6 for FM radio - Krellan's LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
JoSH Lehan

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Opening up old TV channels 5 and 6 for FM radio [Sep. 5th, 2010|05:00 pm]
JoSH Lehan
Ever since the TV stations switched over from analog to digital last year, the old analog TV channels 5 and 6 have been mostly vacant. This brings up an exciting new possibility, that excites me, and many others as well.

TV channels 5 and 6 have the unique advantage of being right next door to the existing FM channels. This would open up 12 MHz of new spectrum. Imagine having a radio that could tune as low as 76.1 or so, instead of stopping at the current limit of roughly 87.9.

The FM dial has been maxed out for decades: there's no room for anybody to open up a new station, without buying somebody else out. Since corporate interests now control almost all radio stations, there's almost no independent stations left, nor the ability for anybody to start one up. Nevertheless, people have tried, using the loophole of the old analog TV channel 6, which can be heard at 87.7 FM on many radios (with enough slop in the settings that they're allowed to go slightly beyond the official boundary of 87.9). An example of this is Pulse 87.7, which existed for a time in New York City. With the switchover to digital, this is no longer possible.

There are relatively few digital TV channels broadcasting on where analog TV channels 5 and 6 were. For a variety of reasons, ATSC digital TV just doesn't work very well on VHF. There is existing research on what TV channels would stand in the way of expanding FM radio. Most of them are translators, which aren't as necessary these days, and could be easily moved.

I would love to see TV channels 5 and 6 opened up for FM radio broadcasting. To avoid the same corporate takeover that happened to the existing FM radio dial, strict ownership limits would be enforced. The old rules, as existed before 1996, would be a good model for this. Essentially, it limits each entity (or entities under common ownership) to a maximum of 1 or 2 radio stations per market.

The advantages of doing this are many:

1) Adjacent to the existing FM radio band. No awkward gaps. Analog radios would only need a simple modification to receive these new frequencies.

2) Japan already uses these frequencies for FM broadcast. As many radios are made in Japan, many high-end radios already ship from the factory with the ability to receive on these frequencies. Usually, an obscure switch, flipped from "US" to "International", is all that it takes.

3) Compatible with existing FM analog service. Digital technology would merely be optional, and not necessary. This should keep the cost cheap, for both stations and listeners, and avoid repeating the existing problems of "HD Radio".

4) With pre-1996 rules brought back for these new frequencies, a great diversity of local radio stations would be allowed to develop.

5) Would not displace many existing television stations. There are very few digital TV channels transmitting on these frequencies, as ATSC digital TV does not work very well over VHF.

6) Little bureaucratic change would be necessary, as these frequencies are already "zoned" for mass media broadcasting, in the form of television. A simple rules change would be all that is necessary, to allow radio stations to apply for these frequencies.

7) Relief to an overcrowded FM band, and AM as well, could be possible. To avoid the confusion of a mass landrush if these new frequencies were suddenly opened, applications would be sorted by priority. Highest priority would be given to existing FM stations, that would agree to vacate their existing frequency after a while (perhaps once a majority of radios in service are able to receive these new frequencies), in exchange for this priority. The next highest priority would be given to existing AM stations, giving many AM stations the opportunity to migrate to FM.

8) Of all these new frequencies, there is one in particular that would be desired by everybody. The frequency of 87.7 has one huge advantage: it is already possible to receive on most existing radios. It has been suggested that the frequency of 87.7 be assigned to nobody, and that it remain vacant. It would be the "designated pirate frequency", usable by all, as long as they didn't interfere with any other channels. It would be good to have for community events, neighborhood gatherings, and so forth. It would also prevent new radio stations from immediately getting into catfights over 87.7, which would be the one frequency everybody would put first on their application forms.

I was very happy to read that one FCC commissioner has finally came on board with this idea! Hopefully the wheels of bureaucracy will begin to gain traction.

[User Picture]From: archiver_tim
2010-09-06 04:10 pm (UTC)
I called the FCC myself asking the same thing. It would be good to see the expansion of the FM dial. Just knowing they would want to add some dial positions to the FM dial should be enough to get all FM radios sold after (date) to include those frequencies. Yes, priority should be given to diversity, not giving another frequency to companies that already have multiple station in town or market.

My radio can be tuned by keypad. It will do 87.7 & 87.5, but no lower without giving ERROR. IN older days, with older tuner, I was able to get Channel 6 audio on the radio.
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[User Picture]From: krellan
2010-09-07 01:04 am (UTC)
I agree. Just the thought of it should be enough for the FCC to legalize radio manufacturers building their radios to include the new lower frequencies.

It will take years for the radio market to become seeded with new radios, anyway, before it becomes commercially viable to set up a station on the new frequencies.
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From: (Anonymous)
2014-01-14 12:34 pm (UTC)
This was something I suggested in the scope of FCC Docket 13-249, with the twist that 3 and 4 be for digital (IBOC) companion channels to AM broadcasters, while 5 and 6 becomes the FM companion channels. Build receivers capable of receiving AM. FM, and DM (digital modulation) with channels 3 to 6. Allow people to choose what they want, and if digital is "all that", people will migrate away from analog. However, it doesn't hurt analog. We still have choice. However the biggest threat to FM, (and AM), is not a technology issue. It's a content issue. We really need to get back to the basics where there are less national broadcasters, and more locally owned and regional broadcasters. Everything predicted in 1995 about the upcoming TelComm Act came true. It was not good for communities, and not good for people.
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[User Picture]From: krellan
2014-01-15 07:40 am (UTC)
I'm glad the FCC is revisiting AM radio. Old TV channels 5 and 6 are useful because they're right next door to the existing FM band, but you're right, old TV channels 2 and 3 and 4 (54-72 MHz) are also available. Because they're separated by that little but important gap between channels 4 and 5 (the remote control band, for garage door openers, etc.) it would make sense to debut a new service there, not try to extend another service to cover that range as well.

Those old TV channels 2 through 4 would make a good all-digital radio band, as you said. The lower frequencies would help make the signals go a little farther indoors, which would help. However, I like the idea of using that space for rural Internet. Somebody out in the country, too far away for broadband Internet access, could put an old TV antenna on their roof and get Internet connection through it. It seems, to me, to be the perfect use for these frequencies.
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