TheEC: RIPR & MVYradio Leverage HD Radio for FM Translators

Mar 11, 2013

So there's big news on the engineering front here at RIPR: we're partnering with MVYradio (formerly heard on WMVY 92.7FM on the Vineyard) to put MVYradio content on our 102.7HD2 digital signal in South County, and in turn it's being simulcast on the 96.5FM analog signal in Newport.

This, admittedly, seems like a complicated setup.  The reason why has to do with FCC rules regarding a specific type of radio station: FM Translators.   The FM Translator Class has specific rules that they must operate under:

  • Generally, they are low power (250 watts max, and usually more like 25 to 50 watts).
  • They must be on FM.
  • They cannot originate their own programming; they must rebroadcast...or "translate"...another FM "primary" station on a different frequency.
  • Depending on their frequency, they may have to receive their programming via over-the-air reception of the "primary" station's FM signal.  (more info)
  • FM Translators are exempt from many rules about minimum staff, public inspection files, unattended operation, etc.   This makes them easier and cheaper to operate.

Coverage map for 96.FM "W243AI" in Newport

New England doesn't have all many FM Translators; they're primarily in more rural or mountainous areas.  However, Rhode Island does have a prominent one: 96.5FM W243AI in Newport.   This is a 55 watt FM Translator from the rooftop of Newport Hospital that rebroadcast classical music (the old WCRB 102.5FM in Boston), then switched to WMVY 92.7FM on Martha's Vineyard for the past several years.  It covers all of Newport and most of Jamestown, as well as some parts of Middletown, Point Judith and Little Compton.

When WMVY was purchased by WBUR in Boston in late 2012, 96.5 needed to find a new "primary" station to rebroadcast.  Giving proof to the saying that "it's a small world", the engineers of W243AI and RIPR are old friends, and they got everyone talking.   Eventually a deal was put together where all parties involved would take advantage of a quirk in FCC rules that allows analog FM translators to rebroadcast the digital HD Radio subchannels of "primary" stations.

Thus, MVYradio would provide its content to be broadcast on WRNI-FM-HD2/102.7 (the regular RIPR programming remains on the the HD1/102.7 and analog 102.7) in South County.   Then, as per FCC rules, W243AI would use a HD Radio receiver to pick up the HD2/102.7 broadcast and "translate" it into an analog 96.5FM broadcast.

The end result is that anyone in South County (and Newport) who has an HD Radio receiver can tune to HD2/102.7 to hear MVYradio.   Anyone who doesn't have an HD Radio receiver...but just has a regular analog FM radio...can listen to MVYradio on 96.5FM just in the Newport area.

A portable HD Radio

HD Radio (unlike HDTV, the "HD" in HD Radio actually doesn't stand for anything) is still a relatively new technology and receivers can be hard to find.  You can try at Best Buy or Crutchfield, or there's several models available direct from Insignia, and several high-end 2013 model year cars come with HD Radio as an option.   But if you don't have an HD Radio receiver, that's okay - you can still listen on 96.5FM in and around Newport!