FCC and Government Affairs
Defining an FM Subcarrier
Before a (subcarrier-based) system for broadcasting FM stereo had been devised,
hidden subcarriers were introduced to create extra revenue streams for FM broadcasters.
Because early SCA (Subsidiary Communications Authority) channels used proprietary
content, mostly background music, the FCC decided early on to treat SCA channels as
private, regulating them more like telephone communications than broadcasting.
This created a perfect framework for radio reading services, whose expansion into
the subcarrier world in the 1970s helped stimulate new ideas and technology for using
SCAs. Soon there were plans to use FM SCAs to regulate traffic lights, shed loads during
periods of peak power demand, provide voice pagers, download software and more.
To protect reading services, the FCC announced (Docket 82-1) that any non-commercial
station selling an SCA channel must also provide one to a reading service upon request.
Link: FCC info on subcarrier use
The Commission revisited this issue five years later, to address the issue of high fees
being charged by main channel providers. "Incremental Costs" may be passed on to the
radio reading services, and no more. This is widely interpreted to mean the station can
only charge what it actually costs to provide electricity to the equipment and for the time
the engineer spends on it. These costs are so low that in actual practice, almost all RRS SCA
stations provide the SCA channel for free. Here you can read how the Commission ruled
, in Docket 87-9:
Link: Allowable Costs for Noncommercial Educational FM Licensees to Charge
Radio Reading Services
Mike Duke, Chair
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