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FCC Gets Foot Traffic on AM

iHeart, NAB press their cases

As the year winds down it’s apparent the FCC is still working on AM revitalization.

Some had hoped that the commission would have issued an item by now; indeed Commissioner Ajit Pai had called for that.

However RW heard from several communications attorneys recently that the agency is still gathering information on potential ways to help station owners on senior band.

That bears out in a perusal of the MB 13-249 docket, with ex parte notices filed on behalf of at least one notable radio owner.

iHeart Communications EVP Engineering & Systems Integration Jeff Littlejohn and SVP Government Affairs Jessica Marventano told FCC officials they support the “expeditious adoption” of many of the agency’s tentative proposals, according to an ex parte filing. In separate meetings they visit with Pai and with advisors to the chairman, to Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O’Rielly, and to the Media Bureau.

They urged the agency to be careful; that any rule change that would increase interference would hurt a band already suffering from interference issues. As we’ve reported, the broadcaster is not fond of proposals to reduce interference protections for Class A AMs, suggesting those require additional analysis. For example, Littlejohn noted that a preliminary analysis suggests an average of 8 million listeners per Class A could potentially receive more interference if such proposals were implemented as they are, according to the filing.

iHeart supports an AM-only FM translator window, with all AMs having equal access and priority. Larger numbers of listeners don’t sample programming on AM, according to the iHeart executives. That’s why iHeart operates several FM translators that rebroadcast AM station signals. Such translators expose the public to AM programming, “thereby increasing AM listening, either through the FM translator, or by the consumer tuning to the newly discovered AM signal,” according to the filing, prepared by attorney Marissa Repp. The executives also noted the problem of weak signal penetration by AM signals, especially in office buildings, can be addressed by an associated FM translator.

As for all-digital operation on AMs, Littlejohn notes that initial testing has shown promise for replicating analog coverage, however he cautions here, too, more study is needed on the impact to adjacent analog signals. While iHeart continues to support the grant of all-digital AM authority on an experimental basis, it would be premature for broad implementation, he noted, according to the filing. (Read the text of the meeting summary including Littlejohn’s comments.)

NAB too, is lobbying the agency on AM. In a meeting with an aide to Commissioner Rosenworcel, NAB EVP/General Counsel Rick Kaplan and SVP Deputy General Counsel Erin Dozier discussed the importance of the agency taking swift action on its pending proposals for AM relief. “There appears to be absolutely no opposition to the item. … In spite of existing technical challenges, AM radio remains a distinctive, popular” programming source, according to an ex parte filing.

“Modifying the commission’s rules to effectuate technical and policy changes will enhance AM signal quality and promote the continued viability of AM radio broadcasting,” according to NAB.