By Jeff Welton, Sales Manager, Central USA
Translators are a hot topic these days. Between “normal” translators, on-channel fill in boosters, translators for providing an analog equivalent of an HD channel, and translators for AM rejuvenation by giving an FM signal to an AM station, it seems that a lot of what gets done every day on the manufacturing side is translator related.
Recently, Nautel was privileged to be able to sponsor an eBook on FM Translators. It covers a lot of information which can be of great service when considering, acquiring or building a translator facility. It contains three articles: one, translator basics, using the FCC rules as a basis; then, Chris Wygal discusses FM translators within the context of the AM revitalization effort; and third, more about the actual nuts-and-bolts implementation of a translator facility.
I had a few thoughts in addition to this eBook and wanted to take some space to put it down in writing…
First and foremost, the legalities – there are rules defining where a translator can be located, based on its function (for example, a fill-in booster must be located within specific contours of the primary station’s coverage area (refer to our FREE Radio Coverage Tool), based on the class of operation of the primary station). Doug Irwin and Chris Wygal have done an excellent job of outlining the legalities and other things to consider when buying, locating or building translator facilities.
Some other things to consider – while a translator must repeat the programming of the primary station and can not originate programming, there is an exception – that being the AM daytimer. An AM station that has an FM translator can originate programming on the translator during the normal hours that the AM station is off-air. Obviously it would be logical to mirror the programming style of the AM even during the times when both stations are not on air, but it provides additional time that a signal can be provided.
Also, because translators for both AM stations and HD subchannels (the HD2 of another station, for example) are considered fill-in translators, they do not need to receive an off-air signal for rebroadcast, but can be fed the program audio directly. This is an important distinction because it means that, rather than having to rely on audio from a receiver, the same audio path can be used to feed the translator as is used for the primary transmitter. This simplifies things, especially when they’re co-located, which is another benefit to AM and HD translators – they can be co-located (and on the same tower) as the originating station.
One other point to consider is processing – especially for the AM daytimer. Here, a situation arises where the studios could be closed after the AM is shut down at night and a transmitter with internal processing and scheduling ability, such as Nautel’s VS Series, could be automatically switched to run an internal program feed, from a USB memory stick, with internal processing. Then, at sign-on for the AM, the translator’s scheduler could automatically switch back to the AM program audio feed – again processing internally, or with an external processor, as required.
Finally, it is worth repeating that, regardless of the situation, if the primary station is supposed to be on air (an AM daytimer during the day, for example) and goes down for any reason (transmission system failure, studio power outage, whatever), it is necessary to have the mechanisms in place to switch the translator off until such time as the primary station is back on air. The VS Series can also assist in this in part, as they are equipped with audio loss detectors that can be used to switch the transmitter off until the primary audio returns. The caveat is that they will not detect a failure of an Importer for a primary station using HD Radio technology, or a phasor meltdown of an AM station, so additional steps need to be taken to ensure that the translator can be shut down if the primary station goes off-air. These steps could be as simple as silence sensors set to monitor the primary station, for unattended operation, or a manual OFF command to the translator for an attended facility, but they do need to be considered.