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iHeart Says Lifting FM Subcaps Could Devastate AM Band

It thinks NAB proposal to substantially deregulate FM would be harmful

iHeartMedia is asking for “a targeted, moderate approach” to changing local radio ownership rules in the United States.

It says the Federal Communications Commission should eliminate the limits on how many AM stations one entity can own in a market, but that it should retain current limits on FMs.

This position, which iHeart had laid out before and is reiterating now, puts the largest U.S. radio company in opposition to the National Association of Broadcasters on this issue.

NAB too would lift the AM subcap, but it wants the FCC to allow an entity to own up to eight commercial FM stations in Nielsen markets 1 through 75, and up to 10 if the licensee participates in the FCC’s incubator program. NAB also wants no cap on FM ownership in markets 76 and smaller.

A licensee currently can own up to eight stations in the largest Nielsen markets but no more than five in one service (AM or FM).

iHeart is worried that “potentially catastrophic harm” could befall AM stations were the FCC to adopt NAB’s proposal to substantially deregulate the FM band.

“The paramount importance of AM radio stations to localism, the trustworthiness of our nation’s communications and information infrastructure, and the continuing financial disparity between AM and FM stations in the relevant broadcast radio market warrant that the existing local radio common ownership limits be eliminated for AM stations but retained for FM stations,” it wrote.

It also says that by maintaining the FM subcap limits, the commission will ensure that financial incentives essential to the success of its Incubator Program remain in place. “The commission should be guided by the overarching principle of doing no harm.”

iHeartMedia has previously expressed concern about relaxing limits on FM ownership, saying it would lead to further devaluation of AM stations and hurt AM owners, including women and minorities, by destroying the financial value of those assets.

In this regard IHM is in agreement with the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), which has told the FCC that any move to relax the limits on local ownership would increase consolidation and hurt African Americans and other minority station owners and entrepreneurs.

[“NABOB Opposes Lifting Subcaps”]

iHeart also noted that it recently launched the Black Information Network as a national audio news service with a Black perspective and voice, and that it “already has repurposed more than 30 local stations serving large Black populations, the majority of which are AM stations …”

The FCC requested comments to refresh the record in its quadrennial review of media ownership limits. Reply comments are due Oct. 1 (Docket No. 18-349).