Reaction from low-power FM advocates to today’s FCC vote is understandably favorable while broadcast reaction so far is low key.
Prometheus Radio Project Policy Director Brandy Doyle said the vote means LPFMs will be located in urban areas for the first time. “Finally, communities without a voice on the airwaves will have a chance to control their own local media. Thanks to the significant step forward today, we will see a wave of new radio stations that better reflects the diversity of our country.”
Prometheus is gearing up to help those nonprofits that would want to apply for an LPFM and seeking donations to fund that effort.
Probably the most contentious aspect of what the FCC had to do was balance the competing needs of new LPFM entrants and existing broadcasters who have had some 6,000 FM translator applications pending at the commission since 2003.
The agency bumped up the national cap on pending FM translator applications that one entity can pursue from 50 to 70, as long as no more than 50 are in the top 150 markets. It relaxed the local cap of one application per entity to up to three applications one company can pursue in more rural markets.
REC Networks founder Michi Eyre stated: “The extension of the 50-cap to a 70-cap with a limitation that translators 51 through 70 are in rural areas will not substantially impact the availability of LPFM in urban areas and still puts restrictions on the most egregious filers. For these additional 20 translators, they must remain in urban areas for the next four years and they can’t overlap any other commonly owned translator or translator application.”
On the “one-to-a-market” issue, the commission’s “three-to-a-market” expansion with the provisions to protect LPFM and to prevent contour overlap with other commonly-owned interests will allow translators and LPFM to co-exist in suburban and rural portions of Arbitron counties with no adverse impacts on the urban availability of LPFM, according to Eyre.
The Media Bureau intends to get broadcasters to make their decisions soon, regarding which translator applications to pursue, an agency official told Radio World. Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle estimated some 2,000 applications would end up being dismissed when the processing is finished.
Radio World asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski whether he believes the FCC is on solid legal footing should one of the broadcasters who had protested the original caps take the issue to court. He said he has confidence in his team and is “very confident” the changes will move forward.
However whether a court challenges would actually happen is unknown. “If the broadcasters are reading the tea leaves, they probably know this is pretty much signed/sealed/delivered at this point,” one engineer consultant told Radio World privately.
NAB did not address the FM translators in its statement. Spokesman Dennis Wharton stated: “We support faithful implementation of the [Local Community Radio Act] and look forward to working with the commission and the LPFM community in the future.”
At least one LPFM advocate believes the compromise worked out on FM translators still requires more work. Eyre stated: “We must close the loopholes in FM translator regulations” that allowed broadcasters to file thousands of FM translator applications in 1983.
While LPFM advocates and even the FCC have said publicly “thousands” of new stations will be authorized as a result of the decision, how many of the applications that come in will actually result in a viable station is an unknown. Doyle said “We’ve studied how much spectrum is available. We don’t know a lot about demand.” The issue is “whether there are interested groups in areas where” stations can be maintained.
More details about what the commission did will come next week when the text of the item is released.