Money for FMs Hit by TV Repack Grows More Likely

NAB hails "significant step" as legislation gathers support
By Randy J. Stine ,

It’s been a process; but radio broadcasters whose facility operations will be affected by the TV repack appear closer to financial relief.

A bicameral agreement now is in place authorizing the FCC to establish a repack fund, and radio is part of it. The legislation, named Ray Baum’s Act, combines provisions previously passed both the House and Senate. Now it appears that a final version will be voted on by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 6.

The fund would reimburse FM radio stations for any unintended and unavoidable costs incurred as the result of the TV Incentive Auction. How much money could be available to broadcasters is not clear in a press release accompanying news of the agreement. NAB projects the repack’s financial impact on radio at $50 million. The group says some 600 FM radio stations could be affected by repack work, which is ongoing and will continue through 2020, based on a study it commissioned from V-Soft Corp.

Moving the ball forward, an agreement was announced Friday by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and former broadcaster Greg Walden (R-Ore.); ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.); Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.); and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). It includes spectrum legislation that passed the Senate last year and authorizes reimbursement for broadcasters displaced in the incentive auction.

A press release detailing the agreement said it “authorizes a repack fund to address the shortfall in funding available to relocate broadcasters being displaced following the successful incentive auction, and set up new relocation funds for translators, low-power television and radio stations that will be impacted by the repack.”

[Watch RW's recent video on this story: Repack Funding for Radio Advances]

The NAB was quick to acknowledge the pact: “NAB applauds Chairmen Walden and Thune and Ranking Members Pallone and Nelson on reaching this agreement, a significant step towards fully reimbursing broadcaster ‘repack’ relocation expenses. We also appreciate the leadership of Senators Moran, Schatz and their cosponsors whose Viewer and Listener Protection Act demonstrated bipartisan consensus to solve this critical issue.

"A truly voluntary incentive auction means tens of millions of Americans who rely on local TV and radio stations – as well as low-power TV stations and translators – are not unfairly burdened by the repack. America’s hometown broadcasters fully support swift passage of Ray Baum’s Act and remain optimistic that appropriators will include full repack relocation funding in the final omnibus spending bill.”

FM radio stations, which have nothing to do incentive auction, could have to temporarily relocate antennas or be forced into using backup or aux facilities due to TV antenna work, experts say, as television stations prepare to operate on new channels in a small post-auction television band.