Ladies & Gentlemen: Start Your Engines - The FCC AM Revitalization - FM Translator Window Is About To Start
January 19, 2016
Last October, two years after opening the docket, the FCC issued its First Report and Order in the AM Revitalization docket. As I reported two years ago [See: AM Broadcasting Revitalization,] the FCC sought comment on a variety of proposals to adapt the AM band more beneficially for broadcasters and their listeners. This past October, it adopted several of those proposals, but the one most anticipated was a new exclusive FM translator window for AM stations. As widely reported in the media and by the FCC itself, the Commission took a two-step approach, the first of which is to be a one-time only window in which the major modification rule will be waived to allow a translator to be acquired and moved a distance of up to 250 miles and to any available commercial channel.
This is significant. Typically, a licensed translator or construction permit may change only three channels from its currently authorized transmitting frequency, and may change locations only if the translator's proposed 1 mV/m contour will overlap with its currently authorized 1 mV/m contour. A bit more leeway is allowed under the Mattoon waiver policy, where (1) the applicant does not have a history of filing serial minor modification applications to "hop" to a new location; (2) the proposed site is mutually exclusive with the licensed translator facility; and (3) the translator will rebroadcast the proposed AM primary station.
The 250-mile waiver is designed make more FM translators available to AM stations faster than could be done through a filing window for new translators. By liberalizing the rules for moving existing FM translators and taking advantage of the secondary market, the FCC staff believes many of the existing and soon to be authorized FM translators can be put to work for AM stations. The Commission observes that since 2003, the number of FM translator stations has increased by 65% (from approximately 3,800 to approximately 6,300) and the number is likely to grow, possibly double, in the next 12 to 18 months as more FM translator permits are awarded.
But That's Not All, Folks
In apparent recognition of the frustration of many AM stations that have acquired FM translators, but have been unable to maximize their potential due to the limitations of a minor modification, the order states that the Commission will accept applications to modify authorized FM translator stations that the AM station licensee owns as well as those for which it is the proposed assignee or transferee in a pending application, or for which it has a rebroadcasting agreement. Thus, the move limitations will not apply during the windows even for those fill-in translators already owned by an AM licensee.
Window Dates: First January 29th - July 28th, 2016
The first 250 miles "minor change" AM station filing window for FM translator modifications will begin January 29th and run through July 28th, 2016. This first window is limited to proposals by Class C and D AM licensees in recognition of the lower power and/or service limitations imposed by their class. During the windows, an FM translator may be moved up to 250 miles from its current location and apply for any other non-reserved FM channel (channels 221-300) to serve as a fill-in translator for Class C or D AM station. Each applicant may apply for one and only one translator station that must comply with the FM fill-in translator siting rules. Further, the modified FM translator must rebroadcast the new AM primary station for a period of four years of on-air operation, exclusive of silent periods, commencing with the initiation of on-air service at the new location.
A second window will open on July 29th and close on October 31st, 2016. It will be available for all AM stations of any class, including a first opportunity for Class A and Class B stations.
One Shot; Make It Count!
In these windows, each AM station can be specified only once as the primary station for translator move. That means that it may be listed as the primary station on only one application filed in one (but not both) of the Modification Windows. Stations are not limited, however, by their existing translators. Thus, an AM station already being rebroadcast over one or more translators still will be still be eligible to serve as the primary station for a single filing during these windows. To qualify, however, all applicants must indicate in Exhibit 1 that the proposal is a "250-mile window application." Also, if the applicant is not currently the licensee of the AM station, it must affirmatively state that it has entered into a rebroadcast agreement with the primary station licensee.
Applications within each window will be accepted on a day-by-day "first-come, first-served" basis. So, it's like an old-fashioned race to the courthouse; the first to file gets it. Applications filed the same day will be considered mutually-exclusive, but as it did in FM Translator Auction 83, the Commission will permit mutually exclusive applicants to resolve their mutual exclusivity through settlements or technical resolutions. The lesson is: File as early as possible, and be very careful. Dismissed or denied applications cannot be amended or re-filed, and a new application to move another translator cannot specify the same AM primary station as in a dismissed or denied window application.
Remember, too, that the current fill-in rules will apply. Following the move, a translator's proposed coverage contour must lie entirely within both the AM station's 2 mV/m daytime contour and a 25-mile radius of the AM site. While the FCC proposed to relax this standard in a new rulemaking, the proposal will not apply to applications filed in either window.
To facilitate planning for the two windows, the FCC has posted two tools on its website at: www.fcc.gov/media/radio/am-revitalization. A "translator search tool" will search for all translator stations located within 250 miles of an AM site. A "translator channel finder" will identify channels available for use by FM translators at a given location. WARNING! You cannot rely on these search engines. The FCC specifically disclaims responsibility; they are there for your convenience only. Verify your application through a qualified communications consulting engineer.
This column is provided for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice pertaining to any specific factual situation. Legal decisions should be made only after proper consultation with a legal professional of your choosing.