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FCC Looks to Grant New Full-Service FM in Ohio

Ruling could spell doom for one LPFM station

A decision by the FCC to amend its Table of Allotments with a new full-service FM in northeastern Ohio could mean a low-power FM station on the same frequency will be displaced.

The FCC’s Audio Division, in response to a Petition for Rulemaking from Western Radio Group, says it will add Channel 272A servicing Dennison, Ohio, a community of 2,709. Western says it will apply for the 102.3 MHz frequency once a new filing window is opened.

If approved, WDNP(LP), an LPFM licensed to Dover, Ohio, and operating on 102.3 MHz, will be displaced by the 6,000-watt nondirectional FM station.

The unusual case drew attention to the FCC’s rules governing LPFMs and full-service stations. LPFM stations are considered a secondary FM service, but at least one commenter told the FCC that the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA), by its wording, does not require that LPFM stations be considered secondary to new FM allotments. REC Networks further argued “the public benefit of an LPFM that has been in service for seven years should be weighed against the interest of adding a new FM drop-in allotment.”

However, the commission rebutted that claim and found the LCRA does apply to new full-service FM broadcast stations. The FCC said: “Although studies were submitted regarding the potential of displacement to WDNP’s licensed site, it is well established that at the FM allotment stage, we do not consider the displacement or interference of secondary FM services.”

The FCC reiterated it is “subject to a Congressional directive to ensure that LPFM stations remain secondary to full-service primary FM stations,” according to the final decision. 

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The FCC also found that comments filed in the proceeding by more than 50 listeners of WDNP in support of the LPFM would not be considered in its decision making process, according to the new Report and Order, since “the parties failed to provide the petitioner or its counsel with a copy of their pleading or provide certificate of service as required in the notice,” the FCC said.

One of the LPFM’s supporters was WJER(AM), which is licensed to the area of Dover-New Philadelphia, Ohio. The broadcaster, which also has an FM translator, told the FCC it “endorses WDNP’s programming, as well as the qualifications and actions of WDNP’s volunteer staff and board of directors, especially its training of volunteers in broadcast operations.” It also claims Dennison is already well-served by WBTC(AM), which is owned by Western Radio Group, in nearby Ulrichsville, Ohio. 

The commission’s R&O, which was signed by Nazifa Sawez, assistant chief of the Audio Division, concluded: “We find that the proposal complies with the commission’s technical requirements and will modify the Table of Allotments as requested. Accordingly, we conclude that the public interest would be served by allotting a first local service at Dennison, Ohio.”

The next steps for low-power WDNP could include asking the FCC for a new frequency. Secondary stations have the option to submit a displacement application asking for another FM frequency that meets the necessary technical criteria, according to the commission. The FCC says Channels 245 and 290 are available at Dover, Ohio. In fact, Western Radio Group submitted an engineering report with its petition demonstrating the alternative channels available. However, REC Networks, the LPFM advocate, says neither is desirable and may face distance separation requirement issues and not protect the LPFM from incoming interference.

Tod Carper, WDNP chairman, told Radio World in an email: “While we are disappointed with the FCC decision, we knew it was most likely what would happen. We have several alternative plans in the works and some time to figure out the best plan of action.”

The FCC says the window period for filing applications for Channel 272A at Dennison, Ohio, will not be opened at this time. Instead, the issue of opening this allotment for filing will be addressed by the commission in subsequent order.