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Unattended Operation of Radio and Television Broadcast Stations

In 1995, the Commission adopted the Report and Order in MM Docket 94-130, 10 FCC Rcd 11479 (1995) [ PDF | Word ] which permitted radio and TV broadcast stations to be operated without a person standing by to monitor the transmitter's operation ("unattended operation").  This action was taken to permit licensed broadcast stations to take advantage of advances in station monitoring equipment and the inherent reliability and stability of today's transmission equipment.  However, questions have arisen as to how the relevant rule sections (47 CFR Sections 73.1300, 73.1350, 73.1400, 73.1820, 74.734, and 74.1234) apply in particular circumstances.  The Audio Division, Media Bureau, in coordination with the Enforcement Bureau, has prepared this question-and-answer sheet to address these inquiries. 

Q1: Notification to Commission: Am I required to notify the Commission when a broadcast station begins unattended operation of its transmitter?

A: No.
  Notification is not required when a station begins unattended operation of its transmitter.  See 47 CFR Section 73.1300

Q2: Main Studio: Does the unattended operation rule permit me to eliminate the main studio for my station?

A: No.
  The Report and Order had no effect on the main studio requirements for radio and television broadcast stations.  The "unattended operation" refers to a lack of human monitoring of the transmitter itself, not the entire station.  Radio and TV stations, with the exception of low power television stations and FM and TV translator and booster stations, and also excepting those stations for whom waiver of the main studio rules was granted, are still required to comply with the main studio requirements of 47 CFR Section 73.1125.  Note, however, that the rules do not require the main studio staff to monitor an unattended broadcast transmitter. 

Q3: Is the station required to have automated equipment in place before unattended operation may commence?

A: No.
  At the present time, the Commission does not require the installation of automatically adjusting monitoring and control equipment (referred to in the Commission's rules as an Automatic Transmission System or ATS) before a station employs unattended operation of its broadcast transmitter. If automatically adjusting monitor and control equipment is not employed, suitable equipment must be employed which is expected to operate within assigned tolerances for extended periods of time without constant human monitoring. See 47 CFR Section 73.1400

Q4: Dedicated Telephone Line: If I use a telephone line for transmitter control and notifications or alarms, am I required to employ a dedicated telephone line for that purpose?

A: Yes.
  A dedicated telephone line (using the public switched telephone network) to the transmitter site is one which is used for the sole purpose of interacting with the broadcast transmitter and monitoring equipment.  Pursuant to 47 CFR Section 73.1350, it may not be used for other purposes during periods when it is in use for transmitter monitoring, alarms, or control.  However, the telephone line may be used for other purposes during periods when the transmitter is being monitored and controlled by other means, e.g., by a person at the transmitter site. 

Q5: Response Time: How long do I have to respond and correct a transmitter malfunction?

A: 
The personnel designated by the licensee to control the transmitter must have the capability to turn the transmitter off at all times, or include an alternate method of taking control of the transmitter which can terminate the station's operation within 3 minutes.  See 73.1350(b)(2).  An example of a system of this type, independent of automatic equipment, would be equipment to turn the transmitter off when the studio-to-transmitter (STL) link is turned off by personnel at the studio.  This short response time is intended to cover those rare instances where the malfunctioning equipment may be posing a threat to public safety, e.g., by causing interference to a land mobile based emergency radio system. 

In general, the licensee or permittee must correct any malfunction which could cause interference or turn the transmitter off within 3 hours of the malfunction.  Some malfunctions, however, must be corrected within 3 minutes.  Examples of situations requiring termination within 3 minutes are operations posing a threat to life or property, or that is likely to significantly disrupt operations of other stations (such as spurious emissions or operations substantially at variance from the authorized radiation pattern), unless the power is sufficiently reduced in that period to eliminate any excess radiation.  See Sections 73.62 for AM stations and Section 73.1350 for AM, FM, and TV stations, as revised in the Report and Order in MB Docket 03-151, FCC 07-97, released May 25, 2007 [ PDF ]. 

Q6: Location of Transmitter Control Personnel: Are the persons designated by the licensee to control the transmitter required to be at a fixed site?

A:
  The answer depends on the level of automation employed by the station, as follows:

  • Fully Automated -- The station's control and monitoring equipment makes any adjustments necessary without human supervision.  In the event of a malfunction which could cause interference, if the automated system cannot correct the malfunction, the equipment automatically shuts the transmitter off after 3 hours (or three minutes for certain AM station conditions, see the previous question).  The system may be configured to contact designated personnel within these time limits, but operator control is not necessary to deal with the malfunction.  In this case, personnel to control the transmitter are not required to be at a fixed site. See 47 CFR Section 73.1400(b).

    The station must maintain the means of receiving, retransmitting, and logging EAS alerts and tests.  See 47 CFR Part 11 and Question 10 below.


  • Partially Automated or Not Automated -- If the transmission, monitoring, or control facilities are

    • Supervised on an ongoing basis by a designated person, whether by direct supervision or by remote control from another site, or


    • Are configured to contact a person designated by the licensee in the event of a malfunction, who must then take steps to resolve the malfunction or terminate operations,
    the station is considered "attended" by 47 CFR Section 73.1400(a)A person who can take control of the transmitter must be located at a fixed site.  Equipment used for remote control operation must provide sufficient monitoring and control capability so as to ensure compliance with 47 CFR Section 73.1350.  The station must also have the means of receiving, retransmitting, and logging EAS alerts and tests. See 47 CFR Part 11 and Question 10 below.
  • Please note that these requirements do not preclude the monitor-and-control equipment from being configured to contact a second person initially.  If the second party is unavailable or cannot take control, the equipment must then contact the designated person at the fixed site, and control or cessation of operations must occur, within the time periods specified in 47 CFR Section 73.1350.  (See Question 5 above).

Q7: How do the unattended operation rules apply to my FM translator or booster station or my low power TV station or TV translator or booster station?

A:
  Unattended operation for low power TV stations and TV translator and booster stations is covered by 47 CFR Section 74.734, while unattended operation for FM translator and booster stations is covered by 47 CFR Section 74.1234. These rule sections require the following:

  1. If the transmitter cannot be promptly reached at all hours and in all seasons, means must be provided so that the transmitter can be turned on and off at will from a point that is accessible 24 hours per day;


  2. The equipment shall automatically and immediately terminate transmitting if the input signal is lost;


  3. Notification to the FCC shall be provided as to the name, address, and telephone number of the person or persons in control of the transmitter. The notification should be sent to the pertinent location shown in Question 8.

Q8: Transmission System Control Point: How and When do I notify the Commission of the establishment of a Transmission System Control Point location?

A:
The location of a transmission system control point, or remote control point, other than at the transmitter site or at the main studio, must be sent by letter to the following Media Bureau locations:

    Audio Division (Radio Stations)
    Video Division (Television)
at the FCC, Washington, DC 20554 within 3 days of the initial use of that point.  Please include the station's call sign and Facility ID number with any notification of the transmission system control point address and provide the telephone number at that control point.  Post Office (P.O.) boxes are not acceptable addresses.  The rule does not preclude the establishment of multiple transmission system control sites, or set a limit on the location of these sites.  Notification is not required if personnel can be contacted at the main studio site or transmitter site during all hours of operation.  See 47 CFR Section 73.1350(h) (formerly subsection (g)).  For clarity, we ask that when notification is made of a new transmission system control point, the letter contain a list of all the remote control points currently in use: this will make clear whether a previously notified control point remains valid. 

Q9: Monitoring Procedures: What technical monitoring procedures must be in place for a station employing unattended operation?

A: 
A station, attended or unattended, must establish suitable monitoring procedures of its equipment and maintainance schedules for the station and indicating instruments to ensure that the equipment is operating properly. See 47 CFR Section 73.1350(c). The FCC does not prescribe any particular procedure or schedule interval for a station to use. Operating and Maintenance Logs for Broadcast and Broadcast Auxiliary Stations, BC Docket 82-537, 54 RR 2d 805 (1983).  We suggest that any procedures established be reduced to writing to provide proof that monitoring procedures exist.  Please note that indicating instruments must comply with the requirements of 47 CFR Section 73.1215

Licensees and permittees should be aware that the Chief Operator of the station, whether attended or unattended, is responsible for weekly inspections of log entries and the additional information required by 47 CFR Section 73.1870(c)

Q10: Station Log: Should out-of-tolerance conditions and corrective actions to the transmitting equipment be recorded in the station log?

A: Yes.
  The station should take care to record each failure, out-of-tolerance condition, or corrective action (including calibration of automatic devices) made to the transmission system equipment, including monitoring and control devices.   See 47 CFR Section 73.1820(a) and (a)(1).

Directional AM stations without an approved sampling system (See 47 CFR Section 73.68) must also log the additional data called for in 47 CFR Section 73.1820(a)(2) at least every three hours

Sections 73.1800 and 73.1820 state that the entries in the station log should be made by the person designated by the licensee to take charge of the transmitting equipment.  Automatic equipment may be used to record entries for the station, provided that the requirements of 47 CFR Section 73.1820(b) are met by the recording device.  Station logs must be kept at least 2 years.  See 47 CFR Section 73.1840 for additional information regarding retention of station logs. 

EAS activations, and EAS equipment taken out of service for repairs, must be logged each time. See 47 CFR Sections 11.35 and 11.53(b)(14).  FM and TV translator and booster stations are not required to comply with the EAS requirements of Part 11.  For more information concerning EAS, please see the FCC's EAS page

Log entries must be made of any malfunction or extinguishment of tower lighting, or any notification made to the FAA of the same, and a log entry should be made when normal functioning resumes. See 47 CFR Sections 17.48, 17.49, and 73.1820 (or 47 CFR Section 74.734 for low power TV stations and TV translator and booster stations, or 47 CFR Section 74.1234 for FM translator and booster stations).  Visual observations to verify proper operation of the tower lighting must be made once a day, unless an automatic alarm system is installed to notify the station of any malfunction (see 47 CFR Section 17.47).  While daily observations are no longer required to be logged, we strongly suggest that the station do so. 

For FM, TV, and most AM stations, changes to and readings of metering equipment are not required to be logged. However, AM directional stations without an approved sampling system must log the meter data called for in 47 CFR Section 73.1820(b)(2) every three hours. Operating and Maintenance Logs for Broadcast and Broadcast Auxiliary Stations, BC Docket 82-537, 54 RR 2d 805 (1983). 


This information sheet should answer most questions dealing with unattended operation of broadcast stations. In the event that a particular question is not adequately answered by this information sheet, or poses an apparent conflict with the rule section, please refer to the specific rule section(s) for guidance. 

For more information about this issue, please call the Audio Division at (202) 418-2700 or the Video Division at (202) 418-1600.

FCC > Media Bureau > Audio Division and Video Division

Related: Broadcast Self-Inspection Checklists

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