Finally, FCC Adopts AM Revitalization Plan
October 23, 2015 at 3:28 PM (PT)
The AM revitalization docket has been adopted by the FCC, including six proposals from the Notice of Proposed Rule Making and asking for further comments on further use of the Expanded AM band, but not opening an AM-only filing window for new FM translators until 2017, instead offering a 2016 filing opportunity for modifying or moving existing translators for AM simulcast use.
Among the changes are relaxation of daytime community of license coverage rules for existing commercial AM stations (but not new stations or stations being modified to designate a new community of license); relaxation of nighttime coverage rules; elimination of the AM "ratchet rule"; allow wider adoption of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies; and reducing the existing AM antenna efficiency standards by 25 percent.
On the AM-only filing window, the Commission wrote, "given other auction commitments, it is not possible at this time to provide such relief in the short term with a new FM translator station auction filing window. However, it is possible to provide short-term relief to AM broadcasters by providing a window where AM stations would be provided greater flexibility to move FM translators..... we direct the Media Bureau to administer in 2016 a process where an AM licensee or permittee seeking to rebroadcast on an FM translator may acquire and relocate one and only one authorized non-reserved band FM translator station up to 250 miles, and specify any rule-compliant non-reserved band FM channel, as a minor modification application. Second, we direct the Media Bureau, in conjunction with the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, to open new FM translator application auction windows, beginning in 2017, for AM stations that do not file a modification application in 2016.... Class C and D stations will be able to take advantage of the modification window and the auction window first, prior to second windows that will be available to all classes." Translators approved for a move under the new rule will be subject to the MATTOON Waiver rule that it maintain rebroadcasting of the primary AM signal for four years.
Open for further discussion are changes in nighttime and Critical Hours protection for Class A AM stations, a rollback of the 1991 skywave nighttime interference calculation rules, changes in daytime protection for Class B, C, and D stations to pre-1991 standards, revising the 2009 rules for locating cross-service fill-in FM translators, modification of partial proof of performance rules and Method of Moments proofs, and enforcement of the rule requiring an Expanded Band AM grantee to surrender the standard band AM station license upon which the Expanded Band station was based. And the Commission opened a Notice of Inquiry on the Expanded Band, with areas of inquiry involving opening the band to new occupants and digital operations and using contour protection standards for allotments, and for relaxing main studio requirements.
Wheeler Declares Victory, Praises Clyburn
Chairman TOM WHEELER said, "This past APRIL, I expressed my commitment to adopt new rules to help AM radio flourish while also preserving the values of competition, diversity, and localism. Today, the Commission unanimously adopted an AM revitalization plan honoring that commitment.
"This Order will ease regulatory burdens on AM broadcasters and address practical problems and interference-related issues that have long plagued AM stations. In particular, it includes multiple actions to expand access to FM translators, which are used to enhance the quality of AM signals.
"First, the new rules allow a one-time waiver for stations to relocate existing FM translators up to 250 miles. Considering FM translators are often in one place when the AM broadcaster wants to use them in another, this provision will dramatically increase the usability of the 6,800 previously authorized translators on the market and should result in significantly lower prices. I’m pleased that the rules prioritize relief for those most in need with a 6-month exclusive modification window for the 4,500 smallest AM stations. This quick, targeted relief will help get translators in the hands of small stations by early next year.
"Today’s package also includes an exclusive opening of the FM translator window for AM
licensees. While I have concerns about favoring one class of licensees with an exclusive spectrum opportunity, I welcomed the compromise proposal by Commissioner Clyburn for an AM-only auction window for small Class C and Class D stations after the Incentive Auction, with a second auction window for all classes to follow. The phased approach providing targeted relief for small stations first will help revitalize AM radio as a whole while supporting diversity in AM station ownership and content.
"Today’s Order would not have been possible without the tremendous leadership of Commissioner CLYBURN. She initiated this proceeding during her time heading this agency, and when disagreements arose she was able to bridge the gaps and broker solutions. Thanks to MIGNON CLYBURN, AM radio just got a significant boost and broadcasters are better positioned to deliver diverse, localized content to the American people."
Clyburn: Outstanding Result Despite Bickering In Press
CLYBURN said, "Earlier this month I released a statement reaffirming my belief in the power, role and economic potential of the AM radio market. That is why I circulated the proposal to open an AM only window for FM translators during my tenure as interim Chair. As I noted in my earlier statement, we have seen positive benefits from the actions we took at that time, including the significant growth in the availability of FM translators. Despite that progress, many in the AM industry, particularly small Class C and Dstation owners, find themselves challenged in successfully finding and affording a translator.
"That’s why I am proud to lend my vote to support an Order that acknowledges the realities of the upcoming incentive auction and the need for immediate relief for AM stations. This Order will allow the smallest AM stations that face the largest challenges to be the first in line for relief, both for the modification application window that will take place early next year, and for the auction window that will happen in 2017. It also provides for outreach and assistance to those that are most resource-challenged. Giving preference to these Class C and D stations will revitalize AM radio, our broadcast service with the highest percentage of ownership diversity.
"Though much of the back-and-forth on the best way to provide this relief played out in the press, instead of within the walls of the Commission, I am nevertheless pleased that we have achieved what I believe is an outstanding result. Today’s order reflects the type of compromise that is necessary to achieve results in our democratic process."
Pai Channels Paul Harvey
Commissioner AJIT PAI said, "WRDN. KZPA. KDKA. WAGG. KBRW. KKOW. WDAY. These aren’t random collections of letters. They and countless other call signs like them represent AM radio stations around this country that have informed and entertained listeners and created a sense of community -- in some cases, for longer than the FCC itself has been around.
"But the AM band is struggling. Signal quality is low. Listenership is down. Advertising revenue is declining. And for a generation, the FCC has been on the sidelines. That’s why, three years ago, I proposed that the Commission launch an initiative to revitalize AM radio. One year later, the FCC began its first comprehensive review of its AM radio rules in over two decades. And at long last, the Commission today is taking meaningful and concrete action to assist AM broadcasters across our country. This is a big victory for the American listening public.
"In particular, we give AM broadcasters short-term relief in two different ways. First, we reform many of our technical rules pertaining to the AM band. The details of those changes are difficult for anyone who isn’t an engineer to understand, but they will make a real difference to AM broadcasters. Eliminating the so-called “ratchet rule” will make it easier for AM broadcasters to improve their signal quality. Modifying our daytime and nighttime community coverage standards, along with minimum efficiency standards, will give AM broadcasters more flexibility when it comes to site location. And the use of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies will allow AM broadcasters to cut their operating costs.
"Second, we afford AM broadcasters additional opportunities to acquire FM translators, including through two exclusive windows for AM stations to obtain new FM translators. Over the last two years, AM broadcasters from KANSAS to MISSISSIPPI have told me about the importance of the FM translator window proposal. Translators have helped them boost listenership and advertising dollars in a major way. Now, translators are not the answer for the technical problems plaguing the AM band. But those problems are not going to be solved overnight. An FM translator can serve as a vital bridge to the future for an AM broadcaster as we work on fixing the AM band’s long-term problems.
"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. First, we will open a window in which AM stations will have greater flexibility to move an FM translator purchased in the secondary market. I have long favored making it easier for AM stations to move FM translators, such as by supporting the TELL CITY waiver request. And then we will give those AM stations still without an FM translator a chance to apply for a new one. I’m hopeful that this two-prong plan will accomplish our goal of distributing FM translators to as many AM stations as want them.
"Of course, our work on AM revitalization does not end today; we also tee up many ideas that stakeholders gave us in response to our Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. I look forward to reviewing the record to be compiled on those ideas and hope that we will move forward swiftly on those that have merit.
"I would like to thank the dedicated staff of the Media Bureau’s Audio Division for their hard work on this document. The Audio Division, ably led by PETER DOYLE, often does not get the recognition that it deserves. But the many millions of Americans who regularly listen to terrestrial radio are the beneficiaries of their efforts and expertise.
"And I would like to thank all of those who have supported this AM revitalization initiative. The broad support we’ve seen speaks to the enduring importance of AM radio in communities across the country. From formal comments submitted to the FCC to enthusiastic 'attaboys' I’ve heard in the field, one thing is clear: When it comes to promoting localism, advancing diversity, and otherwise serving the public interest, AM radio matters. I have seen that for myself in communities across the country, from FORT YUKON, ALASKA to PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA, and from FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA to BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA.
It’s impossible to mention here all of the advocates who have helped us reach this point, but you should know that I deeply appreciate all you have done and will never forget it.
"Thus we close one chapter in AM revitalization and begin another. As PAUL HARVEY -- his
distinctive voice still resonates in my memory from so many broadcasts I heard during my childhood on KLKC 1540 AM -- might have said, that’s the rest of the story. Good day!"
O'Rielly Praises Pai
"I commend Commissioner PAI for his leadership on the entire issue of AM revitalization. Having personally discussed the various options with AM radio broadcasters and read their comments, it is clear how important an FM translator auction window is to the overall effort. I must admit that it was disconcerting to see the turmoil necessary to get us to the end result, but all’s well that ends well.
"At the end of the day, however, Commission rule changes can only be so helpful. The American people will ultimately decide the fate of AM radio and its place in the American entertainment and information marketplace."
NAB: 'Great Day For AM Radio'
NAB EVP of Communications DENNIS WHARTON said, "This is a great day for AM radio and for millions of listeners across America. For decades, AM radio has been a critical source of information, entertainment and lifeline programming for local communities. 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."