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Radio Owners: Hey Ho, Subcaps Have Got to Go

Six radio groups say AM/FM per-market limits are no longer effective

A group of six radio station owners is pressing the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to act on AM and FM radio subcaps.

The groups may have sensed a willingness from the FCC to review the issue after the commission told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that it “intends to act” on a petition filed by the National Association of Broadcasters in December on the 2014 Quadrennial Regulatory Review.

In a letter submitted to the commission this month, the heads of Alpha Media, Connoisseur Media, East Arkansas Broadcasters, Galaxy Communications, Jackson Radio Works and Roberts Communications said the time has come for the commission to eliminate the AM/FM subcaps.

The subcaps limit the number of stations from the same service — AM or FM — that an entity may own in a given market. For example, in a market where an entity may own up to eight commercial radio stations, no more than five stations can be in the same service. They were initially put in place by the commission to promote competition in the marketplace.

The broadcasters cited language in the FCC’s 2010 Quadrennial Review noting that a growing number of stations have called for outright elimination of subcaps. Arguments include new advances in technology and changes in the market, such as the fact that many top stations in large and small markets are in fact AM stations and thus do not need protection, the letter stated.

The group pointed to comments made by other filers that recent advances in technology — among them online streaming, HD Radio technology, and the use of FM translators to augment AM station reach — have improved the ability of AM radio to compete in the marketplace.

The six radio groups said that it’s time for the commission to review the issue and eliminate their use. The subcaps do not protect competition in local radio markets in light of today’s marketplace dynamics, the group said.

Chairman Ajit Pai told Radio World in an interview last week that sub-caps are “one of the issues we’re going to have to look at.” He said he hadn’t had a chance recently to study the record on this issue, “but I would imagine that as we do our comprehensive review of the media ownership regulations, this will be a part of it that we’ll study.” The full text of his interview will appear in Radio World later this month.