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AM Proposals Get FCC Airing

Moving AMs to Channels 5 and 6, easing AMs on FM translators some of revitalization possibilities discussed

Several industry stakeholders met with various FCC representatives at the commission last week about reviving AM.

The meetings included the chief of staff for Acting Chair Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner Ajit Pai and his chief of staff, as well as Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake, Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle and Jim Bradshaw, now deputy chief for engineering and the policy director for Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as well as other agency staff.

While Pai has taken on revitalizing AM, an account of the meetings from Minority Media Telecommunications Council President David Honig is the first indication the topic has gotten any more traction within the agency since first broached by Pai a year ago at the NAB Radio Show.

Honig had stakeholders discuss short- and long-term proposals to help AM, including migrating AMs to Channels 5 and 6. Mullaney Engineering President Jack Mullaney told FCC staff nearly all current analog AM coverage could be replicated by digital operation on these channels, with many AMs obtaining improved nighttime service. Several delegation members discussed the possibility of the commission releasing a Notice of Inquiry to evaluate this proposal in conjunction with the television incentive auction proceeding.

Relaxing the community of license coverage requirements for AMs was discussed. Commission staff noted that waivers are often granted to allow moves. Clear Channel Media & Entertainment EVP Engineering and Systems Integration Jeff Littlejohn said a rule change, rather than waivers, would provide more certainty for AM station investment, according to an account of the meetings by Honig.

Many AM stations were initially located on the edges of cities. Often, those boundaries have expanded, and now relocation options are hindered by the current community of license coverage requirements. Clear Channel supports the relaxation of the community of license coverage requirements to 80% of the community by the 5 mV/m daytime contour and 50% of the community by the nighttime interference-free contour. Clear Channel does not favor eliminating AM nighttime coverage requirements altogether, as that would disserve the public’s expectation of service to their community, according to an account of the meeting by Repp Law Firm Principal Marissa Repp.

Replacement of the AM minimum efficiency standard with a minimum radiation standard was discussed. Mullaney explained this would allow shorter towers for AMs, giving them more flexibility to locate their towers closer to urban centers. Littlejohn noted that shorter towers at higher power could mean more radiation at high angles and any such change would need to be carefully designed to prevent additional signal from entering into the skywave, which would create more interference.

Participants discussed an AM-only window for new and major change FM translators. This topic was also discussed at one of the regulatory sessions at the recent NAB Show. The point would be to allow AMs to apply for new and major change FM translators, hopefully before this October, when the commission hopes to open a window for new LPFM applications.

Littlejohn said Clear Channel’s experience has shown that FM translators rebroadcasting AM stations increase listenership to that AM, and have encouraged listeners to tune directly to the AM band. AMs did not have permission to use FM translators during the last FM translator application window in 2003.

Womble Carlye Partner John Garziglia referred to the so-called Tell City waiver, which asks the FCC to allow AMs using an FM translator to move that translator more than they can now to rebroadcast stronger signals. Littlejohn said ultimately, it would be good for the Media Bureau to establish bright lines rather than rely on waivers.

Wiley Rein Partner Mark Lipp, MMTC Staff Counsel Ken Mallory, Clear Channel SVP Government Affairs Jessica Marventano, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters Executive Director Jim Winston, NAB Associate General Counsel Larry Walke and Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth Co-Managing Member Frank Jazzo were also part of the MMTC-organized delegation.

Clear Channel’s Marventano and Littlejohn expressed support for repealing the “Ratchet rule,” which is an impediment to AMs relocating, according to Repp.