WASHINGTON — Industry organizations are weighing
in on how the FCC will juggle demand for FM spectrum from translator
applicants, AM stations that want to use those translators and low-power FM
One decision has been made, and AM
operators soon will have more access to the FM band as a result.
The FCC in 2009 began allowing AM
signals to be carried on FM translators; but until now, only translators
authorized as of May 1, 2009 could be used. Some 500 to 600 AMs are doing so,
BIA/Kelsey Vice President Mark Fratrik told Radio World.
A practical effect of that date restriction
was to exclude pending Auction 83 FM translator applications from the pool of
potential “cross-service” translators.
The FCC now has decided that any
translators ultimately approved from among the current backlog of 6,500 or so
applications can be used to retransmit AM signals. (The change takes effect 30
days after publication in the Federal Register, which had not happened as of
late April.) However the commission deferred a decision on whether future translator applicants may retransmit
The lifting of this date restriction for
backlogged applicants is among the FCC’s initial decisions about how to sort its
backlog of translator apps yet leave spectrum in some 150 markets to license
more low-power FMs. Communications attorneys believe that, based on the
commission’s initial processing guidelines, only about 1,000 of the pending FM
translators would be granted.
Comments filed with the FCC shed light
on the competing interests involved.
When the commission made proposals last
summer regarding translators and LPFMs, it said it wanted to encourage more AMs
to retransmit signals to improve the AM service. That’s when it proposed
lifting the 2009 restriction and asked for public input about its LPFM and FM
Most commenters to Dockets 07-172 and
99-25 had favored lifting the date restriction. They cited public service
benefits that FM translators provide AMs. Some felt that the restriction was
unnecessary now that the commission plans to open an LPFM window later this
The few who opposed the change argued
for a restriction on cross-service translators in general.
Some LPFM proponents sought qualifying
criteria for cross-service translators, like local ownership, lack of in-market
FM ownership by the AM licensee and quality of AM signal.
The commission declined to take up many
of these arguments, saying the record supports the change. It did leave the
door open to modifying the cross-service translator portion of its policies; it
intends to revise its FM translator rules before opening the next translator
auction application window.
NPR had urged the agency to keep the
date restriction until the commission adopts anti-trafficking policies so that
traffickers in the pool of Auction 83 FM translator applicants would not
benefit from the change. The commission, to date, has not acted on that
What follows are excerpts of the most
pertinent comments explaining the essence of the issue.
EXPAND FM TRANSLATORS AVAILABLE TO AMs
executive vice president, general counsel, headed the list of several
executives who contributed to comments filed by the National Association of
Experience since the rule change took
effect … demonstrates that permitting AM stations to use FM translators has
been a resounding success for communities across America. …
In July 2010, WHCU(AM), Ithaca, N.Y.,
received authorization to rebroadcast its signal on FM translator W240CB,
broadcasting on 95.9 MHz. The translator has improved WHCU’s service by
enabling it to better reach parts of Tomkins and Tioga Counties, and for the
first time, penetrate the dormitory and office buildings on the campuses of
Cornell University and Ithaca College.
The translator has also allowed WHCU to
cover Cornell football, hockey and lacrosse games that take place at night to
an audience that previously could not listen because of the station’s
restricted nighttime power. Importantly, the station has witnessed a surge in
audience diversity to include more students and other young people tuning into
its local news, weather and other coverage.
WTRN(AM), Tyrone, Pa., has also
improved its local public service through the use of an FM translator. WTRN is
located in a commuter community, with thousands of residents heading out early
in the morning for work in State College and other locations. Before WTRN
deployed an FM translator, its morning signal would be overcome by interference
after about five miles from the station’s transmitter. With the translator,
many listeners can now enjoy WTRN all the way to work. …
Other AM stations report that FM
translators enable them to initiate or expand live coverage of high school and
college sports, local election returns, nighttime weather emergencies and
Emergency Alert System alerts, new formats, morning school closing
announcements, church events, and other public affairs programming. …
To date, use of FM translators has
helped many AM stations improve their service, retain or even build their
audiences in the face of intense competition from competing media outlets, and
thus improve their economic viability. However, a substantial number of AM
stations have been unable to benefit because pre-2009 translators are
unavailable in their markets. …
Eliminating the date restriction on AM stations’ use of FM translators
will not reduce potential opportunities for future LPFM stations. Rather,
lifting the date restriction will merely permit AM stations as well as FM
stations to use translators from the same pool of pending applications to be
granted under the ultimate process the commission adopts.
James M. Johnson, trustee for Glades
Media Company, writes:
Glades’ AM station WOKC, Okeechobee, Fla., is rebroadcast over the
facilities of an FM translator station. This arrangement has greatly
contributed to the station’s ability to serve Okeechobee.
It has bolstered the financial
viability of WOKC and materially contributed to the continued availability of a
local radio service in Okeechobee. As a full-service radio station WOKC
programs to meet the needs of its service area and is available to meet
emergency needs in a rural area subject to severe weather.
Stuart W. Nolan Jr. is the attorney for Catholic Radio Association:
Any proposal to limit the use of FM
translators to rebroadcast AM signals would undermine a tremendous tool for
reinvigorating AM stations and facilitating the long-term economic vitality of
the AM radio service. This tool should not be curtailed as a cost of
invigorating the LPFM service.
DATE RESTRICTION HAS SERVED ITS PURPOSE
engineer and RW contributor Alan Jurison writes as an individual.
I believe that AM stations should be
allowed to use any translator that has been licensed. The May 1, 2009 date
would be too limiting for AM stations to be able to compete and obtain any
newly granted FM translators. … The rule served its purpose to help launch the
cross-service translator process, but its usefulness will have expired when
this rulemaking is complete.
KEEP DATE LIMIT UNTIL ANTI-TRAFFICKING POLICIES BEEFED UP
NPR urged the
agency to keep the date restriction in place until the commission adopts
anti-trafficking policies so that traffickers in the current pool of Auction 83
applicants will not benefit from the change. Several executives contributed to
this filing; Terri Minatra, acting vice president for legal affairs, general
counsel and secretary, topped the list:
The initial comments in this proceeding
validate the commission's assessment that many of the applications filed during
the 2003 FM translator filing window were not filed with the intention of
constructing and operating the station. There is also recognition that, because
of the substantial passage of time, many still pending applications may no
longer be viable.…
Nothing in the commission’s rules
sanctions the filing of an application for a broadcast station construction
permit for the purpose of assigning the permit to another for profit. …
While the commission did, in fact,
eliminate the rule barring the sale of construction permits for profit, it did
so not to permit the warehousing of spectrum but because it believed that
competitive bidding procedures would deter speculative filings. As the Third
Further NPRM now concedes, that assumption “has proven to be unfounded in the
Auction No. 83 context.”
There is simply no justification for
rewarding entities that engaged in speculation by treating all pending FM
translator station applications alike. …
Identifying the currently viable, bona
fide FM translator applications will enable the commission and the remaining
applicants to pursue engineering solutions resulting in the licensing of more
FM translators without necessarily obstructing future LPFM opportunities. It
will also preserve spectrum for future FM translator station use.
REDUCE AM TRANSLATOR
POWER BEFORE EXPANDING
(Michi) Eyre, founder of REC Networks, writes:
We have … heard from minority owners
that AM cross-service is necessary using case histories involving their own
cross-service translators. REC continues to believe that once trafficking and
integrity safeguards are placed in the FM translator service that AM stations
that do not have a cross-owned FM station in the same market should be permitted
to use FM translators for retransmission. …
We are also deeply concerned about the
abuse that the commission has created with the cross-service AM translator
rules. While we support minority-owned AM stations with no other FM radio
holdings being able to put their signals on an urban FM translator, this has
been abused by [broadcasters] who exploit the fill-in rule to increase the
power to 250 watts regardless of antenna height.
CRITERIA FOR CROSS-SERVICE
technical director for Common Frequency, tells the agency:
The … rebroadcast of AM stations on
translators has basically created a brand-new price-inflated market for
translators, and a fierce competition for secondary service channels with
prospective LPFM applicants. CFI understands in certain circumstances [there’s
a] need for FM translator supplementation by AM licensees.
However, there is limited capacity on
the FM band for AM stations that want to supplement their AM signal. More
selective qualifying criteria for AM licenses need to be derived before
removing the limit on cross-service translators as asked.
Qualifying criteria such as local
ownership, diversity of ownership, amount of locally-originated programming and
amount of signal deterioration at nighttime compared to daytime service area
should be mulled over to craft selectivity points. Additionally, licensees that
do not currently own FM channels in the market seem better candidates than
those who do.