A pair of FM radio stations — one in Connecticut, the other on Long Island — are embroiled in a dispute over the signal of one of the broadcast outlets interfering with the other.
WJMJ, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Hartford, recently shifted the height and dial position of an FM translator the radio station has in Hamden. An FM translator repeats the broadcast signal of the originating station, thereby allowing it to reach a wider audience than it would get otherwise.
For a non-commercial, listener-supported station like WJMJ, a wider audience translates into more potential donors. So with that in mind, the station earlier this month raised the height of its FM translator from 20 feet up on the WKCI-FM radio tower on Gaylord Mountain Road in Hamden to 460 feet, said Tom Ray, WJMJ’s transmitter engineer.
Prior to increasing the height of the FM translator, WJMJ had been heard on 93.1 on the FM dial in the New Haven area. Along with the change in height of the WJMJ translator, the station moved to 92.9 FM in New Haven area.
The changes resulted in listeners of WEHM on both sides of Long Island Sound being unable to hear that station because of interference from WJMJ’s signal, said Stefan Rybak, managing director of Long Island Radio Broadcasting, which owns the New York station. WEHM also broadcasts at 92.9 FM.
“Last week, we started getting inundated with phone calls and emails, not only from listeners in southern Connecticut, but from those on the north shore of Long Island as well,” Rybak said. “This station enjoys quite a loyal and dedicated listenership because of the format that we have.”
WEHM has what is known in the radio industry as an adult album alternative format. It is a format not in wide use on either Long Island or in Connecticut, according to Scott Fybush, a principal of Fybush Media, a Rochester, N.Y.-based broadcast consulting group.
WEHM listeners weren’t the only ones complaining about interference with the station’s signal by WJMJ, said Bud Williamson, an engineer with Long Island Radio Broadcasting.
“We've gotten phone calls from (WEHM) advertisers on the north shore of Long Island,” Williamson said. “More than one of them has said to us, ‘Your signal is getting interfered with, what are you going to do about it?’”
To appease listeners and advertisers whose commercials may not being reaching WEHM’s maximum audience, Long Island Radio Broadcasting officials are looking to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Rybak said he would prefer to resolve the matter with the two stations working together rather than having to file a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.
“We've tried nicely to communicate with them, but they’ve asked us to file a formal complaint,” Rybak said of WJMJ. “What that means is that both stations are going to spend a lot of money, but in the end, they are not going to win.”
Ray says officials with WJMJ have no ill will toward WEHM.
“We’re the people who changed the neighborhood,” he said “There are a lot of ways this can be remedied, but in order for us to do that, we have to define the problem. And in order to do that, we have to see where their complaints are coming from.”
Rybak said that if WEHM is forced to file a formal complaint with the FCC, it will file information from more than 50 listeners detailing when they experienced the interference with the station’s signal, what type of radio they were using to listen to broadcast and other details.
“He’s going to be pretty busy,” Ryback said of Ray investigating the listener complaints.
Fybush said the way the FCC complaint process works, the station that is being accused of signal interference has the right to contact and question any listener that has filed a complaint.
“It’s kind of awkward because it puts the listener in the middle,” he said.
Fybush said the dispute between WEHM and WJMJ illustrates a larger problem facing the radio broadcasting industry.
“There isn’t any more space on the FM spectrum and stations are already up against each other on the dial,” he said.
When WJMJ was heard on 93.1 FM in the New Haven area, its translator was at a lower height.
The height that an FM signal emanates from is just as important as the power level of a station’s broadcast, Fybush said. So there was no way WJMJ could stay at that spot in the FM dial with translator being relocated to a higher perch.
Prior to increasing the height of its translator and moving to 92.9 FM, Ray said the changes were put through computer modeling to detect whether there was any possibility of signal interference.
“You can model a signal all you want, but when you take it out into the real world, sometimes it doesn’t conform to what you’ve seen on the computer,” he said.
Fybush said one of the big factors in this particular dispute is the existence of Long Island Sound between WEHM’s radio tower and WJMJ’s translator in Hamden.
“When you have an FM radio signal going out over dry land, the strength of it is reduced by the terrain it goes over,” he said. “But radio signals carry further over water than they would over dry land.”