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Minority-Owned AMs Press FCC on Translators

Letter says any other approach for applying for FM translators makes it difficult for stations to remain competitive

Fifty owners of AM stations have called on the FCC to reconsider what they say is the most important proposal in the pending AM revitalization notice now circulating: an AM-only application filing window for FM translators.

A group of minority AM owners told Chairman Tom Wheeler that two-thirds of minority-owned broadcast stations are AMs, and that AM radio often serves as a technological gateway for entrepreneurs of color in broadcasting.

The request puts Wheeler at a tricky crossroads. He has expressed reservations about the need for an AM-only window but has also championed the advancement of minority broadcast ownership.

“[While] we appreciate your commitment to advance the long-pending AM Revitalization proceeding,” the letter said, “it has come to our attention that you are considering a reversal of course regarding the most important, effective proposal set forth in the AM Revitalization Notice: opening an application filing window for FM translators that would be limited to AM broadcast licensees.”

This would have a detrimental impact on the nation’s AM stations, the group said.

“Any other approach will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for AM stations, including many of our own, to obtain the translators they urgently need to remain competitive and provide our communities with the service they deserve,” the letter said. “The best way to help the largest number of AM stations to quickly and efficiently improve their service is to open such an AM-only window.”

If the commission truly aims to advance minority broadcast ownership, the letter said, it should “promptly open an FM translator filing window that is limited to AM licensees.”

Wheeler has expressed reservations about the need for an AM-only window in the past, pondering if it is necessary to open a translator window for only one group.

“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 said in a blog posting in April.

But the chairman has also publicly supported advancement of minority broadcast ownership, and wrote last December about ensuring “continued expansion” of minority ownership of broadcast stations. “[The FCC has worked to ensure] emergence of new ownership models that will … bring more independent voices to the station ownership ranks in a manner that promotes diversity, competition and localism,” wrote Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a joint statement at that time.

The CEOs that signed the Monday letter collectively own 140 radio stations. They include tribal-owned single-station owners like KADA(AM) in Ada, Okla., and relatively large groups like Multicultural Radio Broadcasting, which owns 36 AMs in the United States. The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council are listed as contacts on the letter.

The letter is one of several missives sent to the FCC regarding the potential closing of an AM-only translator window, on which Radio World has reported.

Letters Encapsulate Tensions Over AM Revitalization Issues

Wheeler: FCC Staff Continuing to Review the Record on AM Proposals