'American Idol' music director urges FCC to protect wireless mics

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), "American Idol" music director Rickey Minor urged that airwaves used by wireless microphones be protected to prevent disruptions to the highly watched TV show and other entertainment events.

"On 'American Idol' and [other] productions ... we would simply not be able to deliver the entertainment value millions have experienced without the use of wireless microphones," Minor wrote in a letter filed with the FCC on Friday. 

In addition to "American Idol," Minor has directed White House performances and the Super Bowl pregame entertainment. He wrote that wireless microphones are essential to such events.

Singers, sound engineers, mega-churches and concert venues have been flooding the FCC with letters during the past month over concern that the wireless microphones they use on a daily basis will bumped off their frequencies if the agency opens the airwaves up to other wireless devices such as cell phones, e-book readers, netbooks and laptops. 

The FCC is setting up a database of licensed airwave users so these wireless devices can detect and steer clear of frequencies already in use to avoid interference. Wireless microphones, which are unlicensed users of the airwaves, should be added to that database as licensed users to minimize disruption, these parties say. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill with this goal.

Even theme parks like Busch Gardens and Sea World are asking for protection for the wireless microphones used in the theaters, educational areas and events such as Howl-O-Scream.

"Imagine that you were a guest and you had to watch theatrical shows with everyone using a wired mic or having to listen to a zoo educator in a large crowd with only the sound of their voice," wrote Ken Bert, the parks' audio systems manager. "These would be our choices and would send us back to the 1960s."

The FCC has already ordered wireless microphones to stop operating on a large portion of airwaves recently taken over by AT&T and Verizon Wireless for new wireless technologies. The entertainment industry worries that, without explicit protection from the FCC, their productions and business will suffer.

"These products are the tools of our trade, and we invest in them, operate them with skill, and absolutely rely on their flawless performance," Minor wrote to the FCC. "The prospect of random interruption to this equipment strikes fear in the hearts of performers and technicians alike. It can mean the difference between success and failure in a live performance — the difference between audiences who got what they paid for and those who did not."

"American Idol" is the nation's highest-rated television program, though it was defeated last week by the Winter Olympics.