Member Login

Forgot Password?
Need Login?

You are here: Home > News & Events > News > AM revitalization gets…
Welcome, guest: Login to your account

AM revitalization gets added push from key lawmakers

Two Houston Congressmen, Republican Pete Olson and Democrat Gene Green, are urging FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to change course and speed up efforts to begin revitalizing the AM band by granting AM licensees an opportunity to acquire FM translators.

Olson is the only Texan on the key House Communications and Technology Subcommittee and will keynote the Community Service Awards Breakfast at the TAB Annual Convention Aug. 5-6 in Austin.  Green is the longtime co-author of the anti-Performance Tax measure known as HConRes 17, or the Local Radio Freedom Act.

The FM translator measure is one of several contemplated by the commission in its bid to improve the AM band and enjoys bipartisan support on the panel. While not a solution for all AM stations, the FM translator option provides real help to a significant number of stations and quickly, allowing AM daytimer stations to serve their audiences around the clock while overcoming interference and improving sound quality.

Then-acting chair Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, endorsed the effort in 2013 after Republican Ajit Pai announced in 2012 at his first NAB Radio Show address that AM revitalization must be a priority for the commission.

The rulemaking proceeding triggered by Clyburn garnered broad support by the industry for the FM translator provision, but Wheeler put the kibosh on the effort in April and raised two concerns in a terse blog post, ushering in what some have characterized “rulemaking by blog.”

First, Wheeler questioned “whether there is an insufficient number of FM translator licenses available for AM licensees.”  Second, he expressed reservations about opening a window for only AM licensees, stating that “the government shouldn’t favor one class of licensees with an exclusive spectrum opportunity unavailable to others just because the company owns a license in the AM band.”

TAB’s FCC legal counsel, Scott Flick with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, noted then that both claims are questionable, writing:

“The first reason is, quite simply, factually unsupported by the proceeding record. In comments and reply comments filed just a year ago, the call for an FM translator filing window was deafening. It’s hard to believe the need for such translators has dramatically plummeted in just a year, or that the call for a window would have been so loud were there truckloads of FM translators already out there (in the right location) just waiting to be purchased. For anyone thinking that AM stations just want a “free” translator rather than buying one, applying for and building a translator is anything but free. In addition, the likelihood of mutually exclusive translator applications raises the specter of licenses being awarded by auction, ensuring that acquiring one from the FCC would hardly be ‘free.’”

Flick further observed that the FCC’s last general filing window for FM translators was in 2003, long before AM stations were even permitted to rebroadcast on an FM translator, and that AM licensees have never had an opportunity to apply for a translator, saying:

“All of which makes…avoiding an AM licensee-only filing window even more curious. Under the current FM translator rule, Section 74.1232, applying for an FM translator license is not limited to broadcast licensees. The rule provides that a ‘license for an FM broadcast translator station may be issued to any qualified individual, organized group of individuals, broadcast station license, or local civil governmental body…’ A common example of this is a community with limited radio service that applies for and builds an FM translator to rebroadcast a distant station that is otherwise difficult to receive locally, providing that community a reliable information lifeline. Indeed, the FCC is finding out on the television side that many of the TV translators that might be repacked out of existence are owned by local communities rather than licensees.

“So the FCC would not even need to revise its eligibility rules in order to open an ‘FM for AM’ translator window for all comers. Under the existing rule, anyone is free to apply as long as they have ‘a valid rebroadcast consent agreement with such a permittee or licensee to rebroadcast that station as the translator’s primary station.’ In terms of being limited to serving as a translator for an AM station, that is the nature of an FCC filing window, as the FCC always specifies the type of application it will accept in any filing window announcement, and has never opened a ‘file for whatever service you want’ window.

“Thus, the record amply supports the need for an ‘FM for AM’ translator window, and the current rules preclude any concern that a window would offer preferential treatment, as anyone who wants one can apply for one,” he said.

Flick concluded his post by asking “what is the FCC waiting for?” Texas broadcasters are wondering, too.

Olson-Green AM Revitalization Letter

Flick’s complete April 20 blog post

Quesitons?  Contact TAB's Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

« Back to News Archive
« Back to Latest News