Believe it or not, every theatre, church, or Britney Spears wannabe using a wireless microphone is supposed to have a license for it. No, I'm not making this stuff up. Don't believe me? Here's the FCC rule!
No only are you supposed to have a license, it costs $75.00. No, that's not $75.00, for you-its $75.00 for every wireless mic you own!
Before you lose too much sleep over this, you'll be pleased to know that the FCC currently shows no interest in enforcing this rule (to much time spent on Howard Stern, maybe). Still, if you use wireless mics, it is something you should know about.
This rule covers all wireless mics operating in the frequency ranges except the 49 MHZ range ( we all know how useful a wireless mic that shares garage door opener frequencies is) and those operating in the 902-908 MHZ zone. If you know of any commercially available mics in the frequency range, please let me know.
The real risk you run in using a non-licensed low power transmitter is if your work interfered with the operation of some other licensed device. If you ever get complaints from users of a licensed RF device you better pay attention- a complaint to the FCC about your outlaw microphone could eventually lead to a hefty fine.
Even if you were interested in licensing your wireless mic (and waiting for 4 or 5 months while your application is reviewed) you would first have to choose a specific frequency for your license. That means that everybody using frequency agile mics (including those of you who change operating frequencies at every stop of the tour) would actually only be licensed to use the one frequency that had FCC approval. Sorta takes the usefulness out of the "frequency agile" concept, doesn't it!
Things are pretty tough even for those who are willing to jump through the interminable string of FCC hoops. Currently, only the following organizations are eligible to even apply for a wireless mic license- businesses, schools, charitable organizations, churches, hospitals and licensed broadcasters. Unless you want to name your band "The Non-profit Rhythm & Blues Revue" (didn't I use to play drums for them?) you're not even eligible to apply.
Next time we'll discuss the process for actually getting a license. You'll need to drink an extra cup of coffee.
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Jeff Harrison is a sound person and special event producer who lives in works in Chapel Hill, NC. His most recent work includes producing professional school commencement exercises for the University of North Carolina.