An introduction to WIDE-FM


The electromagnetic spectrum is used by every form of wireless communication.  This means that radio stations, TV stations, satellite services like DIRECTV and DISH all use spectrum.  Spectrum is also used by your wireless phone, the WiFi in your home or business other wireless devices down to your garage door opener.  Spectrum is used for safety related communications such as your local police and fire departments and by aviation to keep our skies safe.  Each of these different uses is designated a place, called a "Band" within that spectrum.  The overall plan for how the spectrum is used is managed through international agreements and domestically by agencies charged with managing spectrum in their respective country.  In the United States, that spectrum manager is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Today's FM stations use a portion of the spectrum between 88 and 108 Megahertz (MHz) for broadcasting.  This Band is then divided into 100 "channels", which are then licensed by the Federal Communications Commission for the purpose of providing broadcast radio.   Just adjacent to the Band used for FM broadcasting is spectrum that is used for television broadcasting.  TV Channel 5 has the spectrum between 76 and 82 MHz and TV Channel 6 has the spectrum between 82 and 88 MHz.  Other nations in the Western Hemisphere have also used this portion of the spectrum in a similar manner.

Current usages of the spectrum from 75.4 to 118 MHz.

The transition of television to digital

With the need to replace the old style analog television system with a new system to deliver television stations digitally, nations around the world had to determine what parts of the spectrum would be used for the new digital television signals.  After years of evaluations and testing, most nations of the world decided that the lower portion of the spectrum that is on frequencies below the FM broadcasting band were ineffective for digital television because of the characteristics of how this portion of the spectrum performs under certain atmospheric conditions, the way that television works in this lower spectrum and the sizes of TV receive antennas   As a result, most nations, with the notable exception of the United States, Canada and Mexico have rejected using this "low band" spectrum for television and instead allocated spectrum used for television at higher frequencies, well above the FM band in order to deliver digital television programming to viewers.  

The world is repurposing TV spectrum unsuitable for digital

In response to requests by AM radio broadcasters, the governments of Japan and Brazil have recently repurposed the spectrum previously used by the "low band" television broadcasters to be used for FM sound broadcasting and in return, the AM stations would be shut down and replaced by FM.  The AM broadcasters in those countries are requesting this because of the decline in performance in AM radio signals, especially in light of other technological advances which cause interference to listening to AM radio stations.  The increased noise is the main reason why electric vehicle manufacturers do not offer the ability to listen to AM radio stations in their models.  In addition, AM radio stations are expensive to operate and require a lot of valuable land in the middle of town where FM can be broadcast from a single tower on a smaller piece of land or on the top of a mountain. A major international organization in the Western Hemisphere has recently recommended that nations repurpose the TV Channel 5 and 6 spectrum for sound broadcasting.  Colombia and other South American nations are considering this expansion.

In the United States, this demand was met by the AM broadcast stations being able to set up lower powered broadcast transmitters (called "translators") within the existing spectrum used by FM broadcast stations.  Because this spectrum is crowded in many parts of the country, these translators had to be engineered in with surgical precision.  These translators do not provide the same coverage as most of the AM stations that use them and it does not result in the service on the AM broadcast band being discontinued.   Unlike in many other nations, the national association that represents the interests of commercial AM broadcast stations also represents the interests of commercial television stations.

In the United States, there has been discussion for the past 10+ years to expand FM sound broadcasting into the spectrum that has been used by Channel 5 and 6 TV stations.  In the past, REC Networks (REC) has offered multiple solutions for this spectrum use, including plans for replacement of AM stations like how it was done in Brazil and Japan.  There has not been a lot of interest by the National Association of Broadcasters (who represents both AM and TV interests) to do this because of the potential impacts they feared there would be on TV stations. Instead, National Public Radio (NPR), who represents the interests of hundreds of noncommercial educational (NCE) FM broadcast stations has been suggesting to the FCC that FM should be expanded into the spectrum used by Channel 6 for use by NCE FM broadcast stations.  Currently, NCE FM broadcast stations have 20 reserved channels accounting for 20 percent of the spectrum currently allocated for FM sound broadcasting.

America's potential unique use for this undesired TV spectrum

As a result of an inquiry by the FCC based on NPR's recommendation,  REC has crafted a comprehensive plan to not only bring new FM stations into the spectrum used by Channel 6 TV stations, but in the spectrum used by Channel 5 TV stations; and to develop a plan that not only can provide a potential for thousands of full-power FM and potentially tens of thousands of low-power FM stations nationwide, but to do it in a manner that protects the 8 TV stations on Channel 6 and the 15 on Channel 5, that are expected to still be broadcasting on those channels at the time when any kind of plan could be implemented.  Other TV stations that broadcast on Channels 5 and 6 have already realized the issues that viewers are having and have asked to move to higher portions of the spectrum.  Also note that the channel number you see on over the air on a TV station  may be a "virtual" channel number and is not the actual channel where transmissions take place. 

We call our plan WIDE-FM, which is borrowed from Japan for the implementation of their widened FM service.  The plan calls for the expansion of the FM broadcast band downward into the spectrum that is currently allocated for Channel 5 and 6 TV stations, expanding the size of the FM band from 100 to 160 channels.  Within the expanded area, we further split the spectrum into two bands: "Band 5", which includes 30 channels between 76.1 and 81.9 MHz and is shared with Channel 5 TV stations; and "Band 6", which includes 30 channels between 82.1 and 87.9 MHz and shared with Channel 6 TV stations.

Spectrum from 75.4 to 118 MHz with the WIDE-FM shared allocation

The WIDE-FM proposal calls for 20 additional channels to be used for NCE FM broadcast stations, doubling the number of channels reserved for such stations.  In most areas of the country, we propose that Band 6 be used for those stations.  In some areas, like New York City, it is necessary to use Band 5 instead in order to protect full-power TV Channel 6 stations.

The additional 10 channels in the band will be set aside for other uses such as low power FM (LPFM) radio stations and potential concepts new to the USA such as temporary special event and in-stadium broadcasting.  In areas where both Bands 5 and 6 can be used without interference to full-power TV stations, Band 5 is also available for these low power operations as well as translators for AM broadcast stations.  These low power operations must not only protect the full-power TV stations in the same band but must also protect low-power TV stations (LPTV) which are not displaced due to the need of their spectrum for full-service (primary) FM stations.  LPTV stations (including TV translators) will only be required to change channels if the spectrum is needed for the expansion of the full-power FM service.  Most LPTV stations on Channel 6 will be displaced where most LPTV stations on Channel 5 will remain protected.

The band plan is also set up in a way that would accommodate 13 low power digital TV stations, which are running under a special temporary authority to also provide a signal that can be heard on FM radios on 87.7 MHz.  While REC opposes the continuance of these secondary commercial TV facilities operating as so-called "Franken FM" stations, our band plan makes an accommodation for them if the FCC decides to convert them to radio stations. 

In most of the country, here is how the 30 channels in the Channel 6 spectrum would be laid out:

Chart of Band 6 (82-88 MHz) and how WIDE-FM services would be assigned in the band.

In areas where Channel 6 is not available, but Channel 5 is, the band would have a similar layout between 76.1 and 81.9 MHz (except for the FM6 channel).

How WIDE-FM stations will be heard by listeners

As WIDE-FM calls for an expansion of the frequency spectrum used for FM broadcasting, most FM radios current sold in the American market are not able to tune the WIDE-FM channels.  Therefore, listeners will need to purchase a different radio.  These radios are already being manufactured for the Japan and Brazil markets and we project that as more South American countries embrace the use of the frequency bands for WIDE-FM, we will see an increase in production of compatible receivers.  Radios being sold in Japan and Brazil span all the way to from small portable radios (like the Sony that is pictured on our home page), as a part of automotive infotainment systems (Ford and Hyundai were early adopters of these receivers in Brazil) and other radios of all shapes and sizes.  Unlike AM radio, the WIDE-FM frequencies are not a different "band" as the current legacy FM band, therefore listeners can easily tune the dial with WIDE-FM and legacy FM stations being on one dial.

WIDE-FM reflects our nation's growing diversity

During the time when space was still available for new FM stations in our major cities, America was a very different place.  As our country becomes more diverse and more ethnic groups are becoming more visible in our nation, it was too late for these groups to be represented on the legacy FM band.  We hope to see WIDE-FM become abundant with representation from groups that have been historically underrepresented by radio.  Our position is that as much priority should be given to local organizations as opposed to national interests.  This includes favoring local churches and ministries over national ministries at the outset.  Our proposal calls for assurances that early adopters to the WIDE-FM concept will be local organizations.  More regional and national organizations will have an opportunity to fill some of the gaps in future filing opportunities, but it is out position that local organizations should have priority whenever possible.

How we propose to introduce the first WIDE-FM radio stations

Normally, when the FCC opens a filing opportunity for new NCE stations, like they did in 2021, applicants can file for any channel and will compete with other applicants with proposals that conflict (both proposals can't be granted without violating technical rules).  In those past filing windows, the ability to select a channel was constrained by existing FM stations already licensed.  As the launch of WIDE-FM does not include any pre-existing FM stations, following the normal NCE procedures could result in extremely large groups of conflicting applications that will result in fewer granted applications and stations going on the air.  

To address this, REC proposes a process similar to what the FCC has done in the past with stations operating in the commercial part of the FM band (92.1~107.9) by assigning an "allotment", which specifies the community of license, the channel assigned for that community and the maximum service class that can be proposed.  All applicants would file their initial applications in a manner that meets the constraint of the allotment.  Once the initial series of filing windows has concluded, granted stations will be able to expand their facilities as long as they continue to service the same community of license for at least 4 years of licensed operation.  We propose to offer 3,501 FM allotments across the United States in the initial Homesteading Filing Window Series.

Applicants will compete against other applicants filing for the same city and channel.  The FCC would use a point system that gives priority to established local applicants, applicants without any other broadcast holdings in the same area and priority for technically superior facilities.  In the event of a tie, other factors such as the number of broadcast authorizations the applicant has, how many applications they filed in the Homesteading Window Series, whether the  organization has been denied a license in the past through a similar comparative review as well as the longevity of the organization in the local community.  In some cases where a single winner can't be determined, up to three broadcasters may be required to share a single channel.

Once the process is completed for the first WIDE-FM stations, future opportunities for new stations will not have the constraints of the allotments.

Also, after the initial WIDE-FM stations have been defined, there would be opportunities for new Low-Power FM community stations within the WIDE-FM spectrum.

Look for allotments and other availability in your area!

Use our WIDE-FM Location Check Tool to see what is available in your area.