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A Game of “Chicken” in the Translator Market?

Larry Langford speculates on how the next six months might play out

The author is owner of WGTO(AM) and W266BS in Cassopolis, Mich. His commentaries are a recurring feature.

FCC translator window No. 1 will open Jan. 29 for Class C and D AM stations looking to modify or acquire FM translators. I am curious how things are going for stations looking to make it happen.

Where are prices headed? Some say you’ll need to be ready to fork over 60 to 150 grand. But there is more than one school of thought on this. Given the 250-mile limit for moves, some would think that prices for previously affordable remote translators would now be inflated and provide a windfall for owners looking to sell. But consider the law of supply and demand. And that is what I am most curious about.

Some stations will use the first window to move an existing translator they currently operate to a better frequency, with no purchase at all. Those left who want to purchase must first find an available frequency, and that means a good session with a consulting engineer who knows the ins and outs of translator apps. Not every station will qualify due to band congestion at their location.

So the number of AM stations really looking to buy may shrink.

What I see coming is a game of “chicken.” The window opens now but the deadline isn’t until July. Brokers may hold off on making final deals until they get an idea of how the winds of value blow, hoping to keep prices high as time runs out. Or maybe they will hope that the second window, which adds Class A and B stations to the mix, will work better for them,

Station owners, on the other hand, may feel that any translator license or CP in the non-reserved band in a 250-mile range is technically equal in value for a move; and things may actually reverse. There could be a glut on the market, and those high prices will collapse due to over-availability. This could actually start a bidding war in reverse. This makes some sense. If you have a couple hundred translators, including CPs, available in a 250-mile area, it might be a buyer’s game as AM operators seek the best deal.

The closer we get to the end of the six-month window, the lower prices might go as sellers get desperate to cash in to some degree on CPs that will run out or very low-power rural translators that will sit unpurchased once the 250-mile rule has expired. I would like to know what brokers and owners have to say on this one. We are in uncharted territory to be sure. Comment below or drop an email to [email protected], and the editors will forward your note to me.

How does that movie line go? “Fasten your seat belts boys, it’s gonna be a bumpy night!” Or in this case six months!