Saturday, August 29, 2020

Questions Remain as New HF Stations Wait for Licenses

Here is the story by Bennett Kobb:

As previously reported here at, the New York company Turms Tech LLC has applied to the FCC for a license for International Broadcast Station WIPE in New Jersey. The license would cover a station already built under a FCC Construction Permit, and would allow it to begin regular operations.

The FCC announced on August 13, 2020 that this license application was accepted for filing, a routine stage at which the FCC examines the application, and might even visit the station, and if everything is in order it will be licensed.

We're not sure everything is in order. The application for Construction Permit placed the transmitter site at N 40° 57' 40.38", W 73° 55' 23.97", the broadcast and communications center surrounding the famous Armstrong Tower at Alpine NJ. Its Application for License, however, specifies N 40° 51' 40", W 73° 55' 23". (Hat tip to Alex P for noting this discrepancy. More about him below.)

While the substitution of 51 for 57 in the coordinates might seem a simple typo, the FCC typically has no sense of humor about coordinate errors. Commission examiners may wonder why a station intended for a historic radio-TV facility ended up among some Manhattan apartments.

The deeper question with WIPE and another, apparently similar station WPBC, is what these stations are really for and what that means for the FCC Rules. WIPE was extremely vague about its program plans, but told the FCC that it will transmit data obtained from third parties using Digital Radio Mondiale. Putting that tidbit together with exposures in a series of public articles in the media and tech blogs, it would seem that audio programming will not be the central mission of this peculiarly named station, whose principal is a financial executive and forestry entrepreneur without any broadcast experience we could find.

We suspect instead that the WIPE data stream will be used not for broadcasting to the public -- the only function permitted to International Broadcast Stations under FCC Rules -- but instead will be used for private communication with foreign exchanges for high-speed trading.

We know of no other justification for investing millions in a new U.S. shortwave radio station when several already exist and would probably appreciate new customers. Unfortunately for the putative DRM broadcaster, the FCC Rules have never permitted anything but open, transparent HF broadcast operations. While one FCC rule does allow shortwave "datacasting", it is only in the context of broadcasting. An example of broadcast datacasting would be Shortwave Radiogram, the successor program to VOA Radiogram which has been experimenting with data modes over AM transmitters for several years.

International data messaging under contract to private clients with receivers at specific fixed locations, on the other hand, is not broadcasting to the public under any reasonable interpretation of the rules. There was an International Fixed Service years ago, but the FCC closed it for lack of interest, probably supplanted by undersea cable and satellites. Thus both the prospective licensee and the FCC have a problem.

As suggested in previous FCC filings by Christopher Rumbaugh, Kim Elliott and Bennett Kobb -- the "High-Frequency Parties" -- the FCC could start to resolve the dilemma with a public inquiry into U.S. HF broadcasting, or actions to update the rules to permit non-broadcast operations in shortwave broadcast bands. Those rules could surely use a fresh look. They've seen little change since the 1930s when the U.S. first permitted private parties to broadcast to foreign audiences.

But those would be public FCC actions. Very little about WIPE has been public. The principal of Turms Tech declined to answer questions about the station, as did his engineer and the company that operates the Alpine tower site. While we wait for FCC action, and sit by our receivers anticipating Wonderful WIPE, more curious developments surround the similar, but as yet unbuilt station WPBC at Batavia IL, proposed by Parable Broadcasting of Norfolk VA.

After the High-Frequency Parties argued that Parable provided insufficient information to the FCC about its possible non-broadcast operations -- whatever audible radio shows WPBC may transmit on top --another party has filed an objection to the WPBC application for Construction Permit. Alexander Pilosov of Shortwave Solutions is an engineer involved in high-frequency trading by radio in the Experimental Radio Service. The ERS is not a public broadcast service and is not limited by the HF broadcast rules.

Pilosov told the FCC, "Parable submitted no evidence how the data it plans to transmit can be decoded by the general public, without use of special equipment." Nor did it submit any evidence as to the kind of data it intends to transmit, he argued.

He wrote that Parable appears to read a previous FCC ruling permitting datacasting "as a permission to offer non-broadcast, private, point-to-point services over the HF broadcast bands." If the FCC intended to permit non-broadcast use, he contends, it would have stated so in a far more explicit manner such as altering the Table of Frequency Allocations.

Will these concerns give the FCC pause, and delay or even deny licenses to Turms Tech and Parable Broadcasting? Will it inquire further into private HF datacomms and decide that these don't really qualify as broadcasts?

On the other hand, maybe the FCC will snooze through the matter and allow the two newest shortwave stations on the air as is, leaving listeners to wonder what goes on beneath the surface. Whatever the outcome, shortwave radio is about to get a lot more interesting.