The Curious Case Of WXOX…Radio?

We reported earlier that Local TV Fox affiliate WJW/8 “Fox 8″ has applied to reallocate RF channel 31, its former digital home, presumably hoping to relocate from its post-transition VHF home at RF 8.

While investigating that move, we stumbled onto another piece of interesting potential news.

Is Cleveland in line for a so-called “Franken FM”, a new commercial “radio station” on the lower end of the FM dial?

For those unfamiliar with the “Franken FM” phenomenon: Low-power TV station operators occasionally take advantage of the fact that the audio carrier for analog channel 6 shows up on the FM dial at approximately 87.7 FM…creating a new “radio station” on most modern FM radios.

One of the operators that does this regularly is Venture Technologies, and what do you know…Venture owns Cleveland LPTVer WXOX-LP/65, which was recently forced off the air due to its presence on spectrum purchased by cell phone carrier Verizon Wireless. (WXOX’s Home Shopping Network programming popped up briefly on Daystar’s WCDN-LP/53.2.)

After years of trying to relocate, first to analog 44, and then to digital 31 – after WJW abandoned that channel for RF 8 – Venture filed a displacement application last April to relocate WXOX-LP to…drumroll, please!…analog channel 6.

The bid to relocate on digital 31 was dismissed by the FCC in September of last year…Venture says in an STA application that it was waiting for Canadian coordination.

A move to analog channel 6 could only mean one thing – Venture wants to use the audio carrier on 87.7 for a “radio station”.

It does so in other markets.

In Chicago, Venture launched the audio carrier of WLFM-LP/6 as smooth jazz “Smooth 87.7″, a move it made immediately after Clear Channel flipped long-time smooth jazz outlet WNUA/95.5 to Spanish-language hit radio as “Mega 95.5″. The station, now tagged as “smooth AC”, is operated by a small company headed by former WNUA executive Pat Kelley.

In the Los Angeles market, Venture leases out the audio carrier of KSFV-CA/6 San Fernando Valley for the Spanish-language religious radio service “Guadalupe Radio”.

Other “Franken FMs” are well-known.

One that actually picked up a little steam was dance-formatted WNYZ-LP “Pulse 87″ in New York City, which even hired a high-profile morning show once heard on another station.

It now still operates as a radio station, airing a variety of brokered foreign language and other programming. The dance music format ended up on a “Pulse 87″ webcast set up by the station’s former program director.

In Denver, a group of local operators created “87.7 The Ticket”, using the audio carrier of KXDP-LP/6 as a full-fledged local sports radio station.

One question we can’t answer: how long will these “Franken FMs” be allowed?

The FCC finally relented on them at some point, ceding that they have no control over LPTV stations “operating” as radio stations, but insisting that the stations air SOME visual programming. This is usually done as unrelated slide shows, or with a camera into the radio studio.

But the technical underpinnings of the “Franken FM” phenomenon could be going away.

We turned to our long-time personal friend and colleague Scott Fybush (“NorthEast Radio Watch”, “The Radio Journal”, 100000watts.com), as we often do in matters like this.

Scott tells us that “there’s an FCC rulemaking proceeding underway now to determine what the end date will be” for analog LPTV broadcasting, which would end the “Franken FM” phenomenon…the FM audio carrier is carried with the analog LPTV signal, and the same phenomenon does not happen with digital LPTV, on channel 6 or any other channel.

When this happens is anyone’s guess, it appears…Scott says the current guess is somewhere between 2012 and 2015.

But NPR (the public radio entity formerly known as National Public Radio) recently asked the FCC to immediately end the “Franken FM” phenomenon, presumably concerned that these “commercial radio stations” are popping up right next to the reserved, non-commercial band (88.1-91.9 MHz).

Venture fired back with a strong rebuttal to the NPR request.

As far as the other analog LPTVers in the Cleveland market go, they are either already running digital stations (the aforementioned WCDN, and some of WIVM-LP/52 Canton’s simulcasters) or have applications or construction permits to go digital (WAOH-LP/29 Akron and sister W35AX Cleveland, and WIVM itself, likely to light up its Canton digital signal soon).

WXOX tried to move, as we mentioned, to digital RF 31 and earlier to analog 44, the latter running into trouble, apparently, due to WNEO/45 Alliance…

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5 Responses to The Curious Case Of WXOX…Radio?

  1. Toxic Avenger says:

    “Franken FM”?
    That term sounds makes them sound like a Air America affiliates (RIP).

    • “Franken FM” as in “Frankenstein”, not the former AAR host and current senator from Minnesota. We’re told Radio World magazine coined the phrase some time ago.

  2. Aaron says:

    What do you think are the chances the FCC might decide to permanently allow “Franken FMs”? Add to the noncomm band maybe?

    • There’s at least one proposal that would reallocate TV RF channel 5 and 6 to an extension of the FM band, more than likely for community radio purposes. What chance that has, we have no idea. (Of course, we are talking literal RF 5 and 6 – WEWS/5 is actually on digital RF 15.)

      It should be noted that not just LPTVers on analog 6 have this “side effect”, though all the full-power analog 6s (save for those in Canada and Mexico) signed off in 2009. These stations used to promote the FM 87.7 signal so people could hear their newscasts in the car. XETV/6 Tijuana, the San Diego market’s CW (former Fox) affiliate, still does so.

  3. Isn’t that the frequency area they once used for Mr. Microphone?

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