Monday, October 26, 2015

FCC Opens FM Translator Windows For AM Stations

The long wait for the FCC’s AM Radio Revitalization rulemaking is over. In a First Report and Order issued late Friday, the Commission details regulatory relief plans for struggling AM broadcasters.

The FCC is going to open an opportunity in 2016 for AM stations to be able to take existing FM translators and move them up to 250 miles and change to any channel as a minor change. reports normally, a translator can only move to another location that has an overlapping protected contour with their current facility and operates on a the same channel or up to a third-adjacent channel.  These translators will have a condition that they must carry the AM station for a period of at least four years.  The FCC will provide two gates, first for the lower powered Class C and D AM stations and then after these stations get first dibs, the Class A and B stations will be allowed to also file. Applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

In 2017, the FCC will open two windows for new FM translators.  According to RecNet, these windows will be open for AM licensees and permittees only.  Like with the 2016 process, Class C and D stations will get a head start.  Unlike previously approved translators (including those moved in the 2016 window), these new translators will be permanently connected as an "adjunct" to the AM station meaning that in the future, the translator can not be split off and sold.  The translator can only be sold at the same time the AM station is being sold and to the same owner for the purpose of rebroadcasting the AM station.  Mutually exclusive applications will be settled by auction.

Ajit Pai
The FCC will be enforcing a "one to a customer" rule for the 2016 and 2017 window sets combined.

This means that if an AM station applies to move a translator on 2016 under the window opportunity, they will not be able to apply for a new translator in the 2017 window.  But overall, between the 2016 and 2017 window sets, an AM station can only pick up one translator.

The FCC is also taking comments in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to provide additional flexibility for the siting of translators rebroadcasting AM stations.  Current rules allow a FM translator carrying an AM station to be placed in the lesser of the AM station's 2 mV/m daytime contour and 25 miles from the AM station.  Proposed rules would change it to the greater of the AM station's 2 mV/m daytime contour and 25 miles from the AM station but in no case shall the translator's protected contour extend more than 40 miles from the AM station.

In a statement, commissioner Ajit Pai, A longtime AM radio champion, called the rulemaking “a big victory” for U.S. radio listeners. He also addressed the issue of delaying the new translator window to 2017. “The approach to translators adopted by the Commission may not be perfect, but we made significant progress on the issue over the past few weeks, and it is an approach that I am pleased to support,” Pai said.

“I’m hopeful that this two-prong plan will accomplish our goal of distributing FM translators to as many AM stations as want them.”

The NAB issued a statement on Friday calling it “a great day for AM radio” and for millions of listeners. “For decades, AM radio has been a critical source of information, entertainment and lifeline programming for local communities,” the NAB said. “We are particularly grateful to Commissioners Pai and Clyburn, who have both championed AM radio and worked hard to find ways to improve its reach, and to the Media Bureau for taking important steps to improve and expand AM radio service. NAB also salutes Chairman Wheeler, who worked with his colleagues to develop a comprehensive proposal to address this important issue."

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