Translator Questions and Answers

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What is a translator & why do we need one?
Translators are low power transmitters designed to cover a small area such as a town or city. They can range from 10 watts to 250 watts. Through a special antenna, the signal of a radio station is “translated” from its original frequency (107.3 MHz for instance) to another frequency (101.5 MHz), on which the station is re-broadcast.  Because some communities are a great distance from the station signal area, multiple translators are sometimes used to “leap frog” the signal across the terrain. A translator system will provide a crystal-clear reception on another frequency in a new community.

Why doesn’t the radio station just put a translator in our area?
A commercial radio station is not allowed, by law, to initiate, finance, construct or otherwise be involved in the construction of a translator, outside of its 70 dbu signal (about 40 miles from its transmitter in the case of a 100,000 watt station). These translators must be financed and maintained by a local individual, organization or institution. Stations are allowed to give some very limited input.

What is the cost of putting on a translator?
The cost of putting a translator on the air is between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on the type of antenna and transmitter needed. The cost of operating a translator after initial equipment purchase and construction, is minimal ($10 to $40 per month). There may be other costs, such as tower lease, if needed.

What do we need to do to get a Translator?
After you decide that your group would like to have a translator, the next step is to determine if a frequency is available. To do this you must select an antenna site. You will need the coordinates of that site (longitude and latitude). An engineer will then determine from those coordinates whether or not a frequency is available, by conducting a frequency search. If a frequency is available, he can then complete an application to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to construct a FM translator. Sterling Communications has been doing this type of work since 1979, and has been directly involved in establishing hundreds of radio stations, and translators.

What do we look for in an antenna site?
Since the FM signal works by “line of sight,” you will need a site that provides an unobstructed view of the area to be covered. Tall buildings, hills, bluffs, etc. can obstruct the signal. You’ll need a site that shoots the signal over obstructions. In some cases, the roof of a building or a church steeple can be utilized. You’ll need about 20′ or more of vertical space for the antennae (there are two or more per translator: receiving and sending antennae). If there is a tower with space available for the antennae, find the owner to inquire about available space and terms.

Do we need a building constructed to house the translator?
Translators are not very large, about the size of a bread box. They can be housed in a closet or on a shelf, etc. They do need to be located near the antenna, however, as they are connected to it by a cable.

Who owns the translator?
You or your group holds the license. Our radio station gives you permission to rebroadcast our signal.

How long does it take to get a translator on the air?
It currently takes about 3-4 months for the application to be processed by the FCC. The engineer you select can advise you on the construction time table.

What if we have other questions?
Questions of a technical nature may be addressed by Sterling, or your local engineer. Questions regarding the operation, programming or philosophy of our radio station may be answered by contacting the station.

* This publication is reprinted by permission of the author, Donald C. Lambert, General Manager of KSLT, in Spearfish, SD for the use of Sterling Communications, Inc. KSLT is a 100,000 watt station which operates on 14 translators.

Simple Guidelines for Commercial Stations, Third Parties and their Translators.

  1. The third party must reside in the community in which the translator is needed.
  2. The third party must act as applicant.
  3. The third party must take care of all expenses involved in operations of translator.
  4. The primary station is able to maintain the equipment monthly through their engineer (as long as no funds are involved).
  5. The third party can run one, thirty second spot per hour bringing attention to fund raising for the translator.
  6. The third party is not limited to a maximum number of translators.
  • With over 50 years of broadcasting behind us here at VCY America Radio and TV, the importance of quality consulting and engineering remains the foundation for our more than 35 facilities across the network. James Price and the wonderful team at Sterling Communications have never disappointed us and their outstanding work is testimony before the broadcast industry and the FCC of the quality of their work. Sterling Communications knows how to get it done and done right.

    Dr. Vic Eliason, V.P. VCY America Radio Network
  • We have, through the application process for a LPFM Radio Station, found James Price and his staff to be professional in every way. They were always, even through our “ignorant questions”, “affable, available and affordable”. At every decision junction, they released wisdom filled with judgement based on their experience and engineering knowledge. All through our application process they shared with us the appropriate direction to take based on what we needed, not what was perhaps best for them. Our application was successful due to their labor and we continue to look to them for all the necessary next steps. With Sterling Communications you receive professional care and sensitivity to the needs of you the client.

    Jim Hughes MD FRCS, The Church in Jackson
  • …a note of thanks for the wonderful and professional work you have provided for the many stations we have had over the years. It seems like we are always changing or moving something with the stations. As the years pass, we have found that we can trust your services and can call, at almost any time, with questions that we need your help to answer. Thanks again for your years of service for us here at Alabama Christian Radio, Inc.

    Pat Jarrell ACR
  • In 2004, we knew God was leading our ministry to purchase a 100kW FM non-commercial station, but we didn’t know much at all about FCC regulations, radio equipment, engineering studies or coverage maps. James Price and crew at Sterling Communications patiently answered ALL our questions and gave us information about questions we didn’t know enough to ask! Their engineering expertise enabled us to receive 3 construction permits during a non-commercial FM filing window, move antennas to more strategic locations and make well-informed decisions as opportunities arose to purchase other stations. They walked us through growing our network from that first station to 7 stations and 9 translators throughout Nebraska, all with faith, good humor and an awareness of our need to stretch each dollar!

    Carolyn Simmons Mission Nebraska
  • I will tell you that I have used many engineers before Sterling. None were as caring, effective and knowledgeable as James and his father have been. Jim Price (the father) was one of the most knowledgeable and innovative persons / engineers that I have known in my rather long career, and James has those same qualities. The Sterling staff is and always has been extremely willing to help. In addition, as a last comment, which is one of the most important items in any business, Sterling's pricing is always acceptable and very competitive.

    Charles Beard CSSI Non-Profit Educational Broadcasting Corp.
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