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Ramping Up for the AM Order, Lines Drawn

Pai, NAB and several industry groups take stand on exclusive AM window for FM translators

Mr. Chairman, your move.

Voices from across the industry — including broadcast industry groups, private individuals and most recently, the NAB and an FCC commissioner — continue to press FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the remaining commissioners about the biggest issue to emerge from the AM revitalization issue: whether or not to open an AM-only window for FM translators.

The chairman has made his thoughts known through comments here and here: once in a blog post, another time at press conference where he said curtly that it was not the commission’s policy to give away free spectrum.

The opposition is now pushing back.

On Sept. 30 FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said he had formally proposed to his colleagues that it was time to officially include an exclusive window for AM broadcasters to obtain FM translators item in the AM radio revitalization item.

“The moment of decision has arrived; commissioners will now have to decide with whom they will stand,” Pai said in a letter released on Thursday. “Will they stand with AM broadcasters across the country?” he asked, listing the groups that have called for inclusion of the window into the AM revitalization order, including minority-owned AM radio licensees CEOs, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, members of the House of Representatives and Congressional Black Caucus, and others.

“In short, will they stand for revitalization of a communications service that predates the FCC itself and has exemplified localism, competition, and diversity in broadcasting?” he asked.

Immediately after, the NAB and several industry broadcast groups added their voices to the call.

A letter submitted to the FCC from three industry groups — the NAB, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, and the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council — urged the commission to include an AM-only window for FM translators in addition to the 250-mile waiver that has also been proposed.

“While we understand that Chairman Wheeler remains committed to his new 250-mile waiver proposal and recognize some value in that approach, we strongly urge the commission to combine that initiative with an exclusive window for AM stations to obtain FM translators,” said the letter, which was signed by Gordon Smith, president and CEO of NAB; James Winston, president of NABOB; and Kim Keenan, president and CEO of MMTC.

“AM radio service is already significantly hampered and minority ownership is at dangerously low levels,” the letter said. “The AM-only window is the only way to ensure that small, rural and minority stations do not get left behind.”

The groups say that there is “no meaningful opposition” to the addition of an AM-only window; rather the issue has garnered widespread support from nearly every corner. “Under these circumstances — no opposition and widespread support — we urge the commission to take another hard look at the wisdom behind what it proposed on its own motion just two years ago,” the letter said, referring to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted by the commission in 2013.

This is a critical time for AM radio and for minority ownership in general, the letter said, and as such, “the commission simply cannot afford to get it wrong.”

Radio World has reached out to Chairman Wheeler’s office for comment.