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Wireless mics face major problems

Churches’ wireless microphone usage could bring stiff fines

By Erin Roach

Washington—Churches could face six-figure fines if they continue to use wireless microphones that operate within a spectrum the Federal Communications Commission has set aside for public-safety entities.

“With the completion of the digital television transition on June 12, 2009, television stations no longer use the frequencies between 698 and 806 MHz (the 700 MHz band) for broadcast,” the FCC explained. “These frequencies are now being used by public-safety entities (such as police, fire and emergency services) and by commercial providers of wireless services.”


If, for instance, a church uses wireless microphones during a worship service, and they are powerful enough to operate outside the building causing interference to public-safety workers communicating via radios, lives could be at risk.

Therefore, as of June 12, anyone using a wireless microphone within the 700 MHz band has been ordered to vacate the frequencies. Violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but fines could exceed $100,000.

Churches across the Southern Baptist Convention have had to examine their microphone equipment to ensure they are not in violation of the FCC ban. In many cases, the cost of replacing such equipment has been significant.

“We had to replace a total of 13 microphones that were all within the frequency the FCC wanted to reserve strictly for police and ambulance services,” said Curtis Brewer, associate pastor of worship and celebration at First Baptist Church of Odessa, Texas. “It cost us about $13,000 to replace those microphones.”

Brewer said he uses at least 20 wireless mics each Sunday for praise teams, special speakers, the pastor, baptisms and other elements.

Even though the wireless microphones the church used in the 700 MHz band still work well, they are of no use under the FCC’s new regulations.

“I know that there are some in our town that aren’t quite as fortunate as we are that have had to totally do away with wireless microphones and go back to cable mics,” Brewer said. “So, there are other options instead of having to replace” the wireless microphones.

Churches are advised to determine whether the wireless microphones they use are in violation of the FCC’s ban on the 700 MHz range. Typically, a number followed by “MHz” appears on the back or side of the receiver. If it falls between 698 and 806 MHz, it must be set aside.

If church leaders are unsure whether their equipment meets the new standards, they can visit FCC.gov/CGB/WirelessMicrophones for a list of compliant microphones.

One indication that a microphone is in violation of the ban is if a church is experiencing interference when using the device. “Typically, if they’re receiving interference, then they’re also causing it,” said Matthew Nodine of the FCC’s Wireless Communications Bureau.

Kent Margraves of Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, a microphone manufacturer, told Your Church magazine that in most cases, churches don’t use a large number of wireless microphones each week. If they are only needed for larger events, such as concerts and pageants, churches may consider renting wireless devices for those occasions if money is not available to replace the entire collection. (BP)

Western Recorder issue date: August 10, 2010