Commissioners conduct radio translator hearing
|County-operated translators provide access to radio stations for Carbon residents. One highlight of the last commission meeting was a public hearing regarding what Carbon lawmakers should do about changing the FM radio signals going through the county's translators. In question was the practice the county has followed for years of relaying Wasatch Front radio signals on the translators. |
The Carbon County Commission met on Aug. 21. One of the highlights of the meeting was a public hearing regarding what the lawmakers should do about changing the FM radio signals going through Carbon County owned translators.
In question was the practice the county has followed for years of relaying Wasatch Front radio signals on the translators.
The issue was brought to the commission about a month ago by David Smith, the new owner of the KUSA FM station in Price. At that time, Smith made a presentation suggesting that the county should change what they are doing.
Smith suggested that the commission either give his station one of the frequencies and unplug the Salt Lake station KISN or do away with it and put on another station with a different format in its place to provide more variety.
Currently, county citizens have access over the FM band to only a few formats with two stations carrying country music, two carrying young adult contemporary, one oldies station and a couple of educational stations. What any one individual can pick up also has to do with the location in the county and what kind of receiver the person may have. That is because FM radio waves don't pass well through cliffs and hills. So if a transmitter is direct line of sight ,there is a good chance it cannot be received in an area.
When the item on the agenda that concerned this issue came up commissioner Bill Krompel first asked Frank Brady, the counties communications specialist to explain the situation.
"Currently, the county holds four licenses for FM transmission and relay," stated Brady. "Many years ago, the county purchased them from the stations that originally installed the equipment because the Federal Communications Commission decided that the stations that broadcast on translators cannot own them."
Presently, the stations relayed through the translators from the Wasatch Front were KISN, KSFI, KODJ and KSOP, explained Brady. The two public radio stations in the area are not hosted on the translators because they have licenses and equipment.
Brady's technical rundown of the situation was followed by comments from Tom Anderson, owner of KARB, one of the country format stations.
"This situation that we are in is pretty unique," stated Anderson. "However, it is unique to Utah not just to Carbon County. There are a number of places in the state that have the same situation."
In the late 1960s, Anderson said the translators were set up by the various stations that wanted to relay from the Wasatch Front.
Anderson owned AM station KOAL at the time and the county commissioners asked if he would have a problem with the stations moving in. Anderson indicated that he had no intention of building an FM station and didn't see a problem as long as Carbon lawmakers would revisit the issue at a later date if local FM stations came into being.
"We put in FM stations in 1977. But by that time, the commission had changed and they never took it up again," he said. "I wonder now, after 35 years, if we should make changes. I just don't know."
Smith originally proposed that the county take two translators from metro stations and give one to him and one to Anderson or take two for other kinds of stations so there is more variety of music or talk radio in the area.
"In the case of our stations, we have shadows where people can't pick up our signals and they don't," explained Smith.
Smith introduced the results of a poll conducted on the Sun Advocate's website the week of July 23. Visitors to the site were able to vote on four different scenarios concerning the situation. With 198 votes cast, 42 percent of the respondents favored leaving the translators alone, 35 percent wanted to reconsider all frequencies and make changes with public input, 13 percent suggested unplugging KISN and giving the frequency to another station for more variety and 10 percent voted to unplug KISN and give the license to a local station.
Some of the commissioners had seen the poll. But the officials pointed out that it wasn't a scientific sampling, but simply a web poll. One lawmaker was upset by the advertising Smith's station had been putting out during the week before the meeting about the situation.
"Sometimes people listen to stations for more than just the music or format," stated Commissioner Tom Matthews. "They sometimes listen for the DJs or other things. Personally, I think your ads this past week were misleading."
"Well they may have been misleading to you," responded Smith. "But they were not meant to be. But if you aren't willing to let the local stations have the transmitters then let's get some variety. We could use a more liberal talk station or music for some of the young people around here. They are starving for their kind of music."
The Carbon commissioners wanted to know if a change in the county translators to stations in the area would add to local listenership.
"There are blank spots in the county for both types of transmissions," explained Brady. "In some areas the counties Star Point translators can't be picked up, in other areas it is the local transmitters. Giving the local stations access to the translators would not really increase coverage in Carbon as much as it would give them more reach into Emery and Grand Counties."
A disagreement ensued between Brady and Smith about what the change would accomplish. Smith maintained that it would allow the local stations to broadcast to the Helper area. However, Brady pointed out that the Star Point translators do not reach Helper.
The commissioners then opened up the matter for public comment.
Pam Juliano indicated that she thought things should not be changed.
"I don't want to see FM 100 (now KSFI) taken off the air, because I really enjoy their Christmas music during the holidays," she stated. "I also have to question the ads that KUSA ran about this meeting. I don't like being scared into change."
Resident Richard Dart, a member of the family recognized as one of the pioneers of FM transmission in the area, addressed the commissioners during the meeting as well.
"The original intent of the FCC in allowing these translators was wide area coverage where there was none," Dart stated. "That was the original intent. It was grown from the idea that areas that had no service should have some. They made these frequencies available for the rebroadcast of signals where no local stations existed. But they also wanted to protect local stations in areas where service was also available. So local stations had requirements that translators did not."
Another local citizen, Jim Brooks, also made some comments during the hearing.
"I came here from California in 1994," pointed out Brooks. "I think we need to keep business here in Carbon County. If a change like this would keep local businesses more competitive, then I think we should do it."
With no further comments from the public, Krompel brought the meeting back into the commissions hands.
"I have had many calls about KISN," explained commissioner Mike Milovich. "I personally don't think I should make a decision about what people listen to. Since it appears this change will not make a big difference about what can be picked up by receivers in the county, I'm not sure a change is in order. If we are to make a change we need some type of poll of citizens to make the decision; something scientific."
Smith offered to help sponsor a poll if the process was the direction the commission decided the county would go.
But the issue of format change moved into another area at that point during the last commission meeting.
"These stations are bought and sold a lot," cautioned Brady. "We could change the stations that are on to get different formats and three months later the station we change to could be sold and the format could revert back to what we are trying to change."
The county commissioners decided that a poll would be a good idea, but money to conduct a survey would have to be budgeted. The lawmakers subsequently decided to study the idea.
Brady also pointed out to the commission that there would be a cost for rechanneling the transmitters if and when it was done.