translators are broadcast devices that receive a transmitted signal
from over the air, automatically convert the frequency, and re-transmit
the signal on a separate channel. Closely related are TV boosters,
that amplify the incoming channel and re-transmit it, but without
translating from one frequency to another.
the United States, television stations originally were assigned
to specific channels and communities, in a pattern designed to distribute
service as widely as possible to all communities. The distribution
plan adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 1952 utilized
a highly simplified model of physical terrain, and predicted desired
coverage in a fairly smooth radius outward from the transmitter
location. In reality, an obstacle such as a 9,000 foot peak would
completely block any reception.
boosters began as a practical self-help solution to this problem
wherever the terrain was mountainous, but especially in the inter-mountain
West from the Front Range of the Rockies to the Cascades and through
the Sierra and Coastal ranges of California. Typically, a local
TV repairman or appliance salesman offering the latest in console
TV sets would install a sensitive receiver on the other side of
the ridge, bring the signal to the near side, and boost the signal
on channel from high above the community into the valley floor.
first booster probably was built by Ed Parsons in 1948, to extend
the reach of his cable system in Astoria, Oregon. Other boosters
in the Pacific Northwest soon followed. In 1954, an FCC inspector
went out to Bridgeport, Washington, and ordered the local booster
shut down, because it was operating without a license. It soon was
returned to extra-legal operation, under the auspices of the Bridgeport
Junior Chamber of Commerce. The FCC issued a cease and desist order,
and on appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
refused to enforce the order, holding that the FCC had a statutory
duty to make provision for the use of broadcast channels, and had
been remiss in not devising a means for boosters to be licensed
(C. J. Community Services v. FCC. D.C. Cir., 1957).
In Colorado, Governor Ed Johnson began issuing state "licenses,"
appointing the local operators to his communication "staff," and
ordering them to continue their efforts to boost television signals
on channel. By 1956, there already were some 800 unlicensed boosters
and translators known to be in operation. The first stirrings of
cable television, or community antenna television, as it was then
known, were in the same interval after 1948. As an alternate delivery
mechanism, cable was the natural competitor of boosters and translators.
Where cable gained initial inroads, as in Pennsylvania, it had the
advantage that each home user was connected and could be charged
a monthly fee. The boosters were typically supported by donations,
and were a broadcast service with no toll-keeper. As cable took
its initial steps as a fledgling industry, it sought protection
from the FCC, urging that translators and boosters be restricted
of this early rivalry, and especially because the FCC was wedded
to its pre-conceived plan for the orderly development of television
in accord with the assignments it issued, the FCC refused to approve
boosters and authorized translators in 1956, only to the virgin
territory of UHF Channels 10-83. Power was limited to 10 watts.
The rural residents essentially ignored this action, and continued
to offer VHF service on Channels 2 through 13, increasingly moving
away from the primitive booster, in favor of cleaner translator
In 1958 the FCC announced that it was stepping up enforcement efforts,
intending to get the extra-legals off the air in 90 days. Congress
was deluged with protests of this action, and the Senate Committee
on Interstate and Foreign Commerce conducted field hearings during
1959 in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. In July 1960
Congress amended the Communications Act to waive operator requirements
and otherwise authorize booster and translator operations, including
those already on the air. Three weeks later, the FCC authorized
VHF translators for the first time.
continue to be an important component of rural TV delivery, especially
in the West. As of 31 December 1995 the FCC reported 4,844 licensed
translators, slightly over one-half operating on UHF. All of these
re-broadcast a primary TV station. In 1982, the FCC made provision
for them to originate their own programs, as low power television
stations, and an additional 1,787 LPTV's have been licensed.
Kenneth A. "The Problem of Television Service for Smaller Communities."
Staff Report to the Senate Committee on Interstate and Foreign
Commerce. Washington, D.C: 26 December 1958.
Communications Commission. Report And Recommendations In The
Low Power Television Inquiry (BC Docket No. 78-153), 9 September
S. Senate, Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Report
to Accompany Senate 1886. 86th Congress, 1st Session. Washington,
D.C.: 4 September 1959.
Power Television; United
States: Cable Television