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FCC Again Rejects a Translator Power Increase in Carson City

Americom had hoped to improve its service in the Reno market

The FCC will not allow an AM station in Nevada to increase the power of an FM translator.

This is a case that involves the definition of a “core market” and also whether FM translators can be used to expand coverage of an AM primary station.

The primary in this case is Reno Media station KBZZ(AM) in Sparks, Nev., source of “Reno’s Real Classic Rock” heard on FM translators in Carson City and Reno.

Licensee Americom Limited Partnership had asked the commission for permission to increase power on the translator at 96.9 MHz in Carson City from 40 watts to 250 watts.

Americom said this would allow the translator to better serve what it describes as KBZZ(AM)’s “core market” as defined by Nielsen’s Radio Market Report and which includes Reno, Sparks and Carson City.

According to the FCC’s case summary, Americom said that because of the shape and size of the Nielsen Reno Market and the terrain between the three cities, there is low conductivity and diminished reception for KBZZ in Carson City. Also, the AM nighttime signal is severely diminished in Carson City, further affecting reception in the Nielsen Reno Market.

The power increase would have required a waiver of a rule that the coverage contour of an FM translator rebroadcasting an AM station must be contained within the greater of either the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station or a 25-mile radius centered at the AM transmitter site. 

In November 2022 the Media Bureau denied the request for a waiver. It said Americom hadn’t established special circumstances that warranted deviation from the FM Translator Siting Rule.

Americom then asked for review, saying the FCC hadn’t considered essential facts, that it failed to undertake a “hard look” analysis and that the outcome was inconsistent with the “plain language, context and spirit” of the FCC’s own AM revitalization efforts, which relaxed requirements of the siting rule to give AMs more flexibility in serving their “core markets.”

Americom felt that the FCC had erred by strictly applying a “primary service area” test to define KBZZ(AM)’s core market. It argued that the commission’s actions in an earlier AM revitalization order not to implement a 40-mile limitation on an FM translator’s 1 mV/m contour supported its argument. And Americom said that a waiver would be in the public interest because it would improve service to a substantial populace in KBZZ(AM)’s core service area.

But now the FCC has denied the request. It said it reviewed the case and was unpersuaded by the arguments.

[Read the FCC ruling.]


In explaining this outcome, the commission provided a review of how its current FM Translator Siting Rule came about. 

In 2009, the FCC wrote, it authorized the use of an FM translator station to rebroadcast the signal of a primary AM station on an FM frequency within the AM station’s current coverage area. It established the FM Translator Siting Rule which, at that time, stated that the coverage contour of such a translator must be contained within the lesser of the AM station’s daytime 2 mV/m contour or a 25-mile radius centered at the AM transmitter. 

It said that decision was “intended to serve the limited purpose of allowing AM stations to fill in service voids, and not to expand service,” even on a minimal basis.

Later, the commission amended the rule to say that a cross-service FM translator’s coverage contour must be contained within the greater rather than the lesser of those areas. 

The commission said it made this change to address concerns of AM stations that claimed they had been disadvantaged by the previous rule.  Those stations said they were “employing directional signals with deep signal nulls, resulting in a 2 mV/m contour extending only a short distance from the transmitter site,” or the limitations “made it difficult for AM stations having transmitters located at some distance from their communities of license, due to land costs, to locate translators nearer to those communities to facilitate service to their listening audiences.”

The FCC said that its intention in relaxing the rule was to provide “flexibility to an AM station using a cross-service translator to serve its core market while not extending its signal beyond the station’s core service area.” FM translators would be fill-in and not result in extensions of service. 

It underscored that “the 2 mV/m contour in all cases constitutes an AM station’s primary service area,” and emphasized that the inclusion of the 2 mV/m contour as one of the limits to translator coverage “ensure[s] that the use of FM translators will not result in … extensions of service.”
In short, it said, the decision to relax the translator siting rule was grounded in its consideration that FM translators should not be used to expand coverage of the AM primary station. 

With that backdrop, the FCC affirmed the Media Bureau’s denial of the KBZZ waiver.  

Even assuming that the “plain language, context and spirit” of its revitalization order supported the application to better serve the Nielsen Reno Market, the FCC said the text of the rule in question would take precedence. It said Americom’s proposal exceeded both of the limitations for the coverage contour of an FM translator rebroadcasting an AM station.

But further, the FCC said the “plain language, context and spirit” of its order also do not support a waiver. Americom wants to define KBZZ(AM)’s “core market” as encompassing all areas within the Nielsen Reno Market, and it asked for a waiver in order to extend the translator’s coverage contour 42 miles from KBZZ(AM)’s transmitter site and beyond its 2 mV/m contour. 

The FCC says this would be in direct conflict with its AM revitalization order. In that order, the FCC did not reference the Nielsen Market Report or suggest that translators could be placed to provide service throughout a market as defined by Nielsen. 

“To the contrary, [the order] states that an AM station’s 2 mV/m contour in all cases constitutes an AM station’s ‘primary service area,’ and that the inclusion of that contour as one of the limits to translator coverage serves to prevent extensions of service.”

The FCC was not persuaded by Americom’s claim that the commission’s earlier decision not to implement a 40-mile limitation on a translator’s 1 mV/m contour was an indication of its intention to allow flexibility for situations like this.

It said it had expressed that the 40-mile limitation was unduly restrictive and chose not to include it in the amended rule. It said it had explained that this decision was based on cases where substantial covered populations lie within an AM station’s 2 mV/m daytime contour, yet are more than 40 miles from the station’s transmitter. 

“In other words, the commission decision not to adopt a 40-mile limitation while at the same time retaining a 2 mV/m contour limitation is fully consistent with the commission’s decision that the 2 mV/m contour is an AM station’s primary service area.”

The FCC also rejected Americom’s argument that its staff had failed to give the waiver request a “hard look” as required by past legal rulings. 

It affirmed that terrain obstruction and the desire to expand a service area are not special circumstances warranting a waiver. “Indeed, many stations could similarly claim the need for such a waiver based on concerns about terrain obstruction and a desire to expand service area.”

And it affirmed that the benefits of increasing its service area beyond the parameters of the siting rule do not outweigh the public interest benefits of applying the rule in a fair and consistent way.

“Americom claims that the public interest would be better served by grant of the waiver request because it would result in service to unserved areas without expanding beyond KBZZ(AM)’s core Nielsen Reno Market and without ‘harmful interference to any third party,’” the FCC wrote. 

“We disagree. The bureau highlighted the commission’s longstanding policy that it will grant waivers to depart from its core allocation rules, in particular, ‘only in the most compelling circumstances.’ We concur with the bureau’s position that Americom’s goal to cover the Nielsen Reno Market is inadequate grounds to justify granting the waiver request.”

It said this is particularly true considering the explicit directive in its AM revitalization order that an AM station’s primary service area is defined by its 2mV/m contour, and this should be recognized as a constraint on service expansion.

“We agree with the bureau that the public interest benefits as a whole are best served when the FM Translator Siting Rule is applied in a fair and consistent manner.” 

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