Is your audio equipment illegal?

Chances are, it isn’t. But believe it or not there is some audio equipment that you don’t even have the right to operate anymore even if you bought it fair and square.

The equipment in question

If you bought wireless microphones before 2009 and you are still using them, take a look at the frequency they broadcast on. If the broadcast frequency is under 900MHz, you probably should look at getting new ones.

They called it “white spaces.”

When broadcast television was first invented, the equipment was really different from how it is today. Of course, television broadcasting started in the 1930s and 1940s which was before computers or even modern electronics. It was much harder to control broadcast waves then. This meant that due to the large amount of power used, there needed to be large “buffer frequencies” between each TV channel. These were called “sidebands.”

Sidebands still exist today so that all televisions are still compatible with the original frequency plans laid out way back then. But, as television broadcasting became more precise, the FCC realized those sidebands weren’t really needed. They sought to make money by licensing those sidebands for other purposes.

The government determined a specific group of frequencies really weren’t used at all and set about to license them for very low power local broadcasts. Wireless microphones, for example, have a range of only a few hundred feet and a very low broadcast power. They were perfect for this kind of licensing.

The term “white spaces” became popular for licensed frequencies in the television broadcast band that truly weren’t used for anything else.

And then, digital television

In the mid-2000s, television started to go digital. This allowed for more channels, better quality, and it meant more precise broadcasts. The channel range from 52-83, once intended to give every broadcaster plenty of space, was given over to cell phone signals and existing channels moved to lower channels. The original transition was done by 2009. A secondary transition, called the “repack” took away all channels above 36 and crammed broadcasters closer together than ever.

For broadcasters, this wasn’t really a technical problem. The FCC made grants available for broadcasters to move, and it was just a matter of changing broadcast equipment. However, both the original digital transition and the “repack” limited the use of frequencies within the TV broadcast spectrum. Using devices other than TV broadcast equipment in those frequencies is now illegal. The same applies to devices that use cell phone frequencies but aren’t cell phones or cell phone boosters.

No need to rush but…

Yes, if you have older wireless equipment, you could technically have been running illegally since 2009. Although, I have to imagine if the FCC police haven’t beaten down your door yet, they probably aren’t going to do so in the next week or so. You probably should look at replacing your wireless equipment with compliant stuff, but it seems to me you’ve made it this far.

Have you noticed problems with your cell phone or TV when you’re using a wireless microphone? You now know why. It’s time to replace the device that causes problems.

Here’s the part where I normally tell you to shop at Solid Signal, but we’re not quite ready to sell wireless microphones yet. Be patient. We expect to have a vastly improved selection of audio equipment available in the next several weeks. Until then, enjoy the gear you have.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.