By many measures, the decision to offer AM stations the opportunity to invest in FM translators has been a success. When the Federal Communications Commission closed its fourth and final FM translator window for AM stations at the end of January, the FCC said that a total of 1,955 applicants attempted to take advantage of the opportunity. So far, 1,131 of those applications have been granted.
Radio World spoke with Steve Moravec with Phoenix Media Group, a radio broadcasting consultancy group, as part of our ongoing coverage of the impact of this program. Here’s an edited version of the conversation.
Radio World: Chairman Ajit Pai has said that wide interest in cross-service translators stations demonstrates the community’s commitment to improving AM radio. Would you agree? Did you see as many applications as you expected?
Steve Moravec: We were mildly surprised by the level of interest in Windows 3 and 4 but it must be remembered that these were “free” as opposed to the 250-mile move-in purchases that were the core of Windows 1 and 2. Lots of folks seem to have gotten the message that this was going to be it.
I had thought there would be more “desperate daytimer” (Class D) apps, and there should have been from some who have little night service.
Radio World: Were there any applications this time around that surprised you — either the applicant themselves or the location?
Moravec: We had several clients who purchased translators before AM revitalization and so hadn’t spent their “free card,” thereby allowing them to apply for a second translator in a nearby community. For instance, KWLM in Willmar, Minn., applied for a second at nearby Sunberg about 20 miles away. There should have been more folks doing this sort of thing to widen their station marketing and appeal.
The amount of misinformation regarding the process was appalling and sometimes we could clear it up instantly. Radio World did a great job throughout, as did Tom Taylor NOW among others. The right questions just didn’t get asked.
Radio World: What applications were you involved in, and what did you learn from the application process?
Moravec: Our long-time client AM 1030 WCTS in the Twin Cities did an excellent job [pursuing] various frequency options as they became available. Their GM Steve Davis and his administration worked with Phoenix Media Group and its technical associate Dave Doherty (Skywaves) throughout the process. Washington counsel Gregg Skall was an invaluable addition to the team as was John Sims of RF Specialties. As a Class B, WCTS was last in the Window 4 line and we are very pleased because we believe its app will be designated a singleton without competition and ready to grant.
Radio World: Now that the final window has closed, do you have any crystal-ball predictions on where we might be 18 months from now in terms of the ongoing effort to revitalize AM radio?
Moravec: Better-quality AM radios would be huge, as would be anything that would reduce the level of the noise floor we have all helped create! People will still be hungry for translators but we now return to the so-called old method of trying to buy an existing unit on the open market.
Finally, more and better locally-oriented compelling content would be welcomed, too.
Radio World: Are there any twists that you expect now that these four windows have been closed?
Moravec: Those stations that didn’t take advantage of one of the windows will regret the day they said no. I can’t imagine trying to sell a daytimer without a translator in five years. With the windows gone it will be very tough to find anything readily for sale.