Minority broadcast voices are playing an active role in the debate over revitalization of the AM band in the United States.
The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters continues to press the FCC, including specific requests regarding the proposed hot-button AM-only filing window for FM translators. A revitalization report and order is on circulation at the commission.
A Sept. 15 letter to the commission followed a telephone meeting between NABOB President James L. Winston and Maria Kirby, legal advisor to Chairman Tom Wheeler. In the letter, NABOB proposed that the commission open two filing windows for AMs to apply for translators. The first would be for licensees of Class C and Class D AM stations — “because these stations operate with limited or no nighttime power.” After that window closed, the commission could open a second window for Class A and Class B licensees. According to the NABOB letter, each licensee would be permitted to seek only one FM translator per AM station.
The organization also said that if the commission does adopt a waiver window to move existing translators up to 250 miles, as has been discussed, it should do so concurrently — not in lieu of — the originally proposed translator filing window. “Adoption of both proposals gives smaller station owners a better chance of finding success in one of these two paths to FM translator ownership,” the letter said. “If the proposed 250-mile waiver policy is adopted as the only opportunity for small AM station licensees to acquire a license, it will be too limited.”
The group also asked the FCC to extend the length of a waiver window. It should be up to a year, not limited to 60 days, NABOB wrote. “By limiting the waiver period … smaller stations could be denied the time needed to acquire the capital to purchase a translator.”
In August, a letter to the FCC from a group of minority AM broadcast owners pressed the FCC to consider the importance of an exclusive translator window for AM stations. Two-thirds of minority-owned broadcast stations are AM stations, the letter said, and the AM band often serves as a technological gateway for entrepreneurs of color in broadcasting.
The Congressional Black Caucus Congress has also expressed concerns about these issues.
Mentioning the role AM stations play in ensuring diverse communications, 12 members called on Chairman Tom Wheeler to take steps that would enhance the AM radio experience. “It has come to our attention that you may reverse course on the most promising mechanism proposed [in the AM revitalization proceeding]: an application window for FM translators that is limited to AM licensees,” the letter said. “Inclusion of this AM-only application window is essential to provide meaningful relief for AM radio.”
The letter praised translators for providing clearer signal reception and extended hours, thereby allowing minority-owned AM stations to attract more listeners and advertisers and improve their economic stability. “Such an approach would also allow AM broadcasters to use their limited resources to improve service for listeners, leading to more economically viable minority-owned AM radio stations, a more diverse broadcasting ecosystem, and more attractive options for urban, Hispanic and in-language audiences,” the letter said.
The National Association of Broadcasters has been vocal on this as well. “As the FCC strives to expand diversity of media ownership, [opening an AM-only filing window] would strengthen the ability of minority-owned radio stations to expand their reach and provide new services to a wider audience,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the NAB in a Sept. 1 release.
Wheeler has expressed reservations about the necessity of an AM-only filing window for FM translators. In a blog post earlier this year he said, “If we are to assure that spectrum availability is an open opportunity, then the government shouldn’t favor one class of licensees with an exclusive spectrum opportunity unavailable to others just because the company owns a license in the AM band,” Wheeler wrote.
He also sounded a critical note during the Sept. 17 open meeting, in which he said, “It’s not the general policy of this agency to give away free spectrum.”