ALERT: Wireless microphones banned by the US’s FCC

Not too long ago after many years of not seeing it, I watched through the series Bless Me Father.  There is an episode when the young priest convinces the old pastor they need new sound-proofed confessionals as we as  new sound system for the church, with a wireless microphone.

You can see the train wreck coming.

There might be a problem about wireless microphones for parishes which have them.  Frankly, I dislike them and hope this is true.  But surely a new mousetrap will be create.

Here is a story sent by a friend.  I don’t know if this is urbane legend or reality, but the source looks good.

FCC prohibits wireless mics in 700MHz band after DTV transition  [IN the USA, as of this coming February, all TV broadcasts will switch from analog to digital.]

The FCC has voted unanimously to ban the use of wireless microphones and other devices in the 700MHz band after the transition to digital television Feb. 17. Also included in the FCC order is equipment for cue and control communications and that synchronizes TV camera signals.

The FCC also wants to prohibit the manufacture, import, sale or shipment of devices that operate as low-power auxiliary stations in the 700MHz band after the transition is complete. Anticipating the decision, wireless microphone vendors like Shure have not manufactured such mics since the end of 2007.  [I wonder what the problem is with that frequency.  Is that the band "they" will use to try to control the 666 chips they are putting in people's brains?  Where's my aluminum foil!!?]

Wireless microphones have long been sharing the spectrum with broadcasters on Channels 52 through 69. Those channels, however, are being reclaimed for advanced wireless uses by industry players and first-responders after the transition to DTV[First responders... uh huh... sound's like CHIPS to me!]

Responding to consumer groups, the FCC Enforcement Bureau has opened an investigation into how manufacturers market wireless microphones to users.

The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition alleged in a complaint last month that users of wireless microphones, including Broadway stage shows and large churches, [This is why I am posting this.  Fathers... are you paying attention?] are unwittingly violating FCC rules that require licenses for the devices. The group accused wireless manufacturers of deceptive advertising in how they market and sell the microphones, which largely operate in the same radio spectrum as broadcast TV stations.

Most wireless microphone owners are unaware that FCC rules require them to obtain a license. [Or a chip in your skull....] Wireless microphones that operate in the same frequency bands as broadcast TV stations are intended for use in the production of TV or cable programming or the motion picture industry, according to FCC rules.

The FCC rarely enforces the licensing requirements on the microphones because there have been so few complaints; the microphones are programmed to avoid TV channels. However, transition to digital broadcasting has forced the FCC to act.

It’s not known how many wireless microphones are in operation, but Harold Feld, an attorney for the Media Access Project, said the total is likely more than 1 million. “These are the favored frequencies because they can be run at lower power and can be used for very high-quality audio,” Feld told the Associated Press.

The wireless microphone issue stems from the FCC’s consideration of using the spectrum between TV channels for transmitting wireless broadband signals. Consumer groups and some of the nation’s largest technology companies say these “white spaces” represent enormous potential to make broadband more accessible.

Wireless microphone users and manufacturers have objected to the FCC over future white space devices because of fears of interference, even though many of them haven’t been granted government licenses for the microphones they’re using.

In all seriousness.  This looks like it is true.  I might be a good idea to make plans, if you have a parish where wireless mics are used in the church or church hall.

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25 Responses to ALERT: Wireless microphones banned by the US’s FCC

  1. Bailey Walker says:

    Great! Pet peeve (among so many, sigh): sight of Father groping around under his chasuble trying to find the little switch for his wireless mike. If he only knew what this looks like from the congregation he would NEVER do this again. [Good point. Yet another reason to dislike these things for Mass.]

    Funny story: back in the ancient 1970′s when these wireless mikes first became the rage I was at a large suburban parish. Father was still in the sacristy and fiddling with the wireless mike. He clearly didn’t realize that it was on and that everyone in the congregation patiently waiting for the beginning of Mass could hear him. It was only mildly amusing and slightly annoying… until Father decided that he needed to relieve himself before leaving the sacristy. Imagine the horror when everyone in the congregation realized exactly what the amplified sound of burbling water really was. Father processed in, blissfully ignorant of having broadcast his “private moment” throughout the church.

    I suspect he never made that mistake again.

  2. Charivari Rob says:

    Hmmm… It will be interesting to see how this plays out legally.

    I can’t imagine what the priest in the example was thinking. Every priest I know who uses one clips the pack to their belt at their hip, where there is already a slit in the alb to allow them to reach for a handkerchief.

    Frankly, I think they’re a great advance, if someone takes 5 minutes to learn how to use one. They are of particular help in ministry to the healing-impaired. A church with a wireless mike set will often have courtesy earphone sets available for those in the congregation who need them.

    There can be bugs in the system, yes. In my hometown parish, every few years, someone would decide that the sound system ‘needed’ to be replaced/upgraded, etc… One or two of these upgrades were disasters.

    Particularly memorable was the ‘upgrade’ that resulted in repeated occurences of our sound system picking up the microphones from the Baptist Church (ABC) down the street! We had an order priest resident in the parish at that time, a Dominican and retired Navy chaplain who was disinclined to tolerate much nonsense. If I recall, he ordered the whole thing shut down and completed the Mass without aid of any mic (and believe me, there was no problem hearing him)

  3. John P. says:

    Sounds great as well! I’m like Bailey, it’s a big pet peeve of mine as well to see Father trying to find the little switch to turn the microphone on. I don’t think our parish used to have them until probably 8 or 9 years ago, but I was too young to really remember much back then. I personally hope they get outlawed. I find the story of the “private moment” almost funny in a sad kind of way. I would have been really embarrassed if that had been me, and I think that’s plenty of reason to get rid of them!

  4. Fr. BJ says:

    It is a pet peeve of mind to have to try to find that little switch during Mass. And then I am always annoyed about turning it on or off around communion time after I have been handling the consecrated host. Very annoying and not practical at all.

    I do know one place where someone else controls the on/off function from a sound board, so Father doesn’t have to do a thing. That is better, but wireless mikes are still objectively speaking evil in my book.

    Sometimes I would rather have to shout and risk losing my voice over against using one of these wireless mikes!

  5. John says:

    Thank you very much for posting this. My 5 year old daughter is totally deaf. She has been implanted with a Cochlear Implant last year and her teachers at school utilize wireless microphones. This is done to enable her to hear the instructions/lessons clearly over all the background noise which the implant microphone picks up. I have my work to do now! But thank you , again for the information. This is the first that I have heard of it.

  6. Jerry says:

    Since my profession is public safety communications I may be able to shed some light on this. With the migration of TV away from these frequencies they have been set aside for a national public safety radio interoperability network…meaning channels that emergency responders can use anywhere in the country. The theory is that it will allow agencies that have used different frequency bands that have been incompatible with each other to use a common band of frequencies so they can communicate with each other. So, if Los Angeles firefighters go to New Orleans on another Katrina they won’t have the communications problems that have existed in the past.

    The concern is that allowing wireless devices on those newly available frequencies will cause interference. Theoretically that could happen and wouldn’t be a good thing. Does the FCC have the authority to impose this restriction? Absolutely!

    Not to panic. They are hundreds and hundreds of other frequencies outside the 700 Mhz band available for wireless mics and other wireless devices. They will continue to be available as they have been for years. The wireless mics in use in many churches today are not on 700 Mhz so there is no threat to them.

  7. phy1729 says:

    It is indeed legit. The site below links to a pdf on an FCC server.

    http://www.techlawjournal.com/topstories/2008/20080821.asp

  8. Brian Day says:

    A couple of random thoughts.
    1) I am old enough to be apart of the CB radio craze of the 70′s. At that time there was an FCC license requirement to operate a CB radio. After the popularity of movies such as Smokey and the Bandit, so many people bought CB radios that the FCC dropped the licensing requirement. I’m wondering if the same situation is occurring here. There is a technical requirement on the books for a license but rarely enforced. Maybe the FCC should drop the licensing requirement just like they did for CB radios.

    2) I am of mixed emotions on the use of wireless mics in a Church setting. My home parish seats 1,500 so I think an un-amplified voice is not an option. All of the above criticisms are good and valid points, and I suppose that wired mics could be employed. The down side of wired mics are the wires. It isn’t too bad to have permanent mics at the alter, chair and ambo, but if there is another “ceremony” withing Mass (weddings, funerals, the Scrutinies, etc.) then a wired mic is very inconvenient.

  9. chironomo says:

    Before we all go and insist that our parish cease using it’s wireless system after February 2009, some caveats….

    1. Most consumer grade wireless systems are not 700Mhz band systems. Such systems are larger commercial systems, used for concerts and professional events.

    2, The law, as stated, does not prohibit the USE of already existing and licensed systems, only the manufacture, sale and distribution of new sytems. This is a “grandfathering” clause that allows already existing systems to be used until they are retired and replaced.

  10. Nicholas says:

    Father,

    It’s TINFOIL! TINFOIL! Aluminum foil only IMPROVES reception for the mind-control devices!

    ;-)

    (On a more serious note, I direct a schola cantorum which has achieved moderate interest in the local community; if you could pray for our perseverance, I would be grateful.)

  11. chironomo says:

    Mea Culpa…Scratch the above…. I read a “blurb” on the Broadcast engineering website. The actual FCC website gives the complete ruling which also prohibits the operation of such systems after February 2009.

    How appropriate that the anti=spam is THINK, THEN POST!!!

  12. Father Totton says:

    I don’t know where these priests are putting thier mics. I have a transmitter which clips onto the cincture of my alb at my left hip. At the appropriate time, I flip a switch (I know exactly where it is and exactly which way to move it!) with an action that approximates touching the side – at one point, some priest friends thought this action would one day roll over into the liturgy with some theological significance – I can already see an allusion to the pierced side of our Lord, out from which flowed blood and water.

    One priest commented about the difficulty of touching the mic after having touched the Sacred Host. Father, if you keep the “canonical digits,” it is entirely possible to use another finger to flip the switch, thus avoiding any possible profanation of the Sacred Species.

    I personally do not like the microphones – any of them. But my church is carpeted to a fault, it carries very little sound without them, and I do think there is some pastoral benefit in the faithful hearing the various prayers of the Mass.

    This may make some angry here, but I even wear the mic for Masses in the EF – in which I leave the mic on only for those parts of the Mass which are prescribed to be said “aloud”. If they are to be said aloud, I presume that is so that they may be heard!

  13. Pater, OSB says:

    While deacon at a large parish our Hall played host to the local Firemen’s ‘Monte Casino’ Night… complete with wirelessly mic’ed MC. Just as I was preparing the altar with lovely organ in the background we heard a booming voice rehearse, “Welcome, Welcome to Monte Casino Night where the chips and drinks flow….” The poor elderly priest who was celebrating hadn’t an idea what was happening.

    I’d love to see a ban on those ridiculous Madonna (the singer not the BVM) over-ear mic’s.

  14. Tina in Ashburn says:

    What movie was that, where the priest left his microphone on while he took a ‘break’? Too funny. I betcha it has happened more than once. Funny comments posted here. In a nearby parish, the sound system and fiddling with the microphones is a consistent distraction. The worst are the clueless guys at the sound board [what's this button do? oops].

    Yup, most of this makes sense. I don’t understand it all but here’s the HISTORY. I have spent a bit of time in the telecommunications industry. I created a process at my company and project managed the complex bartering of spectrum for services from a company using radios. Many little companies, truckers, construction, taxis, energy, etc own[ed] the frequencies for their company radios. This wireless company had bought the frequencies of many companies to create the spectrum for their phones. Eventually, the fragmentation of a zillion non-contiguous pieces within spectrums created problems. The most efficient organization for spectrum is for all the pieces to be contiguous, side-by-side and unbroken. Over the years, as you put a lot of bits and pieces together from mom-and-pop businesses, its a, er, mess [official technical term].

    This company after many long years of quiet lobbying, got the FCC to order a consolidation of all these pieces, affecting just about anybody who owned radio spectrum. The benefit, not only for the scrappy company, went to emergency workers and medical teams [aka "first responders"] who would get contiguous and more powerful bands of spectrum, while the company also traded this for contiguous space. First responders have been getting knocked off their radios as piecemeal spectrum got more crowded, causing great problems for police and rescue teams who couldn’t communicate at the most crucial times. We guessed that lives have been risked or lost because of this.

    Eventually my complex process became the model for the ‘rebanding’ of the enormous amount of spectrum of this wireless company with the zillion little companies. Thankfully I was out of that effort, and busy supporting software applications for other parts of the company. whew.

    So I’m guessing this re-organization of spectrum continues as analog broadcast TV becomes digital to make more spectrum available to the “needy”. Out of all of this, I believe the only analog spectrum left alone will be the old channel one, the channel missing from our old TV sets that started with a two on the dial. This is the ham radio frequency.

    Churches I assume will have to buy new systems that tune in on another frequency. If these soon-to-be-illegal systems were bought recently, yeah, then the salesmen weren’t entirely forthright. Remaining on this 700 MHz frequency would cause interruptions to crucial radio service for those entitled to it. Also a church might suffer ‘cross-talk’ and hear odd conversations over their system!

    [And you just might irritate any frustrated space aliens using this to communicate with the government...]

    Sorry about the tinfoil you bought. Now you’ll just have to use it for baking I’m afraid. Or lining birdcages.

  15. Howard says:

    Perhaps it would be more moderate to simply institute a 5-day waiting period for the purchase of new microphones and make an absolute ban only on assault-style microphones.

  16. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Ack no. whoops, wrong setting. The movie where the microphone was left on during a ‘break’ was a Leslie Nielson movie. Now how could I have mixed that up with a modern day church setting? [rhetorical question]
    But which movie…? anybody?

  17. I found this on the Shure Co. (manufacturer of wireless mics) website:

    Wireless microphones may continue to operate on all of these frequencies, just as they do now. However, wireless microphones that operate on frequencies above 698 MHz should not be used after February 19, 2009.

  18. JL says:

    Perhaps this is a good time to re-evaluate the acoustics of our church buildings. Many of our churches were built before artificial amplification, and were designed with a resonant and directional acoustic. The church I currently attend uses NO amplification, and yet everything is perfectly audible because of a) the construction of the building and b) the enunciation of the clergy, readers, singers, etc.

    The absence of microphones also allows people to lower their “listening threshold” to a lower volume; the ear adjusts quickly to sounds becoming softer. Excessive amplification, on the other hand, can result in hearing loss–or at the very least, can be pretty annoying.

  19. Patrick T says:

    Microphones are a definite necessity in a large church (small chapels can get away without them). However, wireless mic’s are never needed. All that is needed is one mic at the ambo, a slender stand mic at the chair, and a good quality mic on the altar. These are the only places where the priest and deacon speak anyway. Plus, wireless mics cause MAJOR headaches for a sound design. The wired mic will always provide a much better design precisely because they don’t move so the speakers can be optimized for the mic in that location.

  20. Flabellum says:

    Time was when priests were taught to chant and fill a big church as effectively as a diva in an opera house.

  21. Maureen says:

    Yeah, but even a diva can’t fill an acoustically dead space with sound. The moral of the story is — “Carpet is expensive, and not just when you buy it.”

  22. Charivari Rob says:

    Patrick T. – “Microphones are a definite necessity in a large church (small chapels can get away without them). However, wireless mic’s are never needed. All that is needed is one mic at the ambo, a slender stand mic at the chair, and a good quality mic on the altar. These are the only places where the priest and deacon speak anyway. Plus, wireless mics cause MAJOR headaches for a sound design. The wired mic will always provide a much better design precisely because they don’t move so the speakers can be optimized for the mic in that location.”

    Yes, microphones are a practical and sometimes even absolute necessity in some churches. Wireless microphones are simply an advancement to the technology, sometimes quite useful.

    “The altar, anbo and chair are the only places the priest or deacon speak from.” – ???

    Depending on the circumstances, I’ve seen priests and deacons speak from the altar, the anbo, the chair, the baptismal font, each station of the cross, the front steps/foyer/narthex (new fire at Easter), the back of the church (funerals), two or three points along the center aisle with the cross (well, that’s closer to chant), a side altar (especially if that’s the place of repose during the Triduum), in front of the altar (a wedding, perhaps), blessing and lighting the advent candles, the foot of the altar steps… Then there is the need of others (beyond the priest and the deacon) who do have a role to speak out in certain parts of the Mass – the extra reader in the Passion, a cantor, a soloist. Does the parish use the choir loft or is the choir to the side near the front of the church? Consider, too, that some parishes have only their church as a gathering space of any size. Musicians, revivalists, mission preachers may have use for microphones in different places than those involved in Mass.

    That’s over 30 places. Cordless microphones are much more practical than fixed mics in all those places or stretching cords everywhere to move mics.

    Yes, I’m sure it’s easier to design/balance a fixed mic layout. However, it’s far from an insurmountable challenge to do one for cordless, especially with all that computers allow for experimenting with design.

    There’s no reason why a good cordless system can’t be set up. Logistical/layout reason, that is. There may be other reasons.

    Personally, I’ve had more problems with corded systems (usually primitive ones) than cordless systems

  23. Boko Fittleworth says:

    Microphones are necessary for the Novus Ordo. Another point for the EF and another reason why the OF is a ritus modernus, while the EF is the Mass of All Time. We’re one EMP away from the Restoration.

  24. Matt says:

    The 700 Mhz band is primarily being auctioned off for commercial intrests. The public safety reasoning is a red herring. It will take decades before any majority of public safety departments have deployed a lot of devices in the public safety range of this band. Here are the reasons:

    1. Virtually everyone already has public safety equipment and repeaters on the 150, 460, or 800 Mhz bands.

    2. It is insanely expensive to rip out existing systems. New devices are not introduced until a full rip and replace is done on the core repeaters/controllers.

    3. The 700 Mhz frequency band does not always lend itself to the best RF properties for a department. A sheriff’s department that is spread out over a large county will be much more likely to have several repeaters in the 150 Mhz band because that band is more effective at longer distance communication.

    4. Radio and data equipment is not readily available and optimized for public safety use.

    5. There is a VERY strong push for the FCC to SELL this spectrum to companies for commecial purposes.

    6. Many departments have just recently replaced older analog radios with a propriatary digital solution from a single vendor. Analog used to be the universal, compatible mode of communications. A radio from one county could be used on the system in another county so long as the proper frequencies were programmed. This is still done in many counties so that they can coordinate with surrounding counties in emergencies.

    The FCC may BAN wireless mics in this range becuase they don’t want complaints from Verizon, ATT and other carriers who have PURCHASED the rights to use the majority of the 700 MHZ range. So unless you are causing major interferrence, you use of wireless mics in this frequency range will never even be detected.

    Similar things happened with cordless telephones showing up on ham radio bands. These however were quickly located and the owners told to stop using the devices. HAMs tend to be very quick to find NON-HAM gear in their frequency ranges. Thankfully the commercial operators really could care less unless you cause them grief.

    I am digressing. No need to worry about implantable chips here. Just plain old US Government greed to rake in more money by selling off public assets.