On Sept. 19 at the Radio Show in Dallas, Milford Smith, vice president of radio engineering at Greater Media, will host a panel that includes James Bradshaw, deputy chief of the Audio Division of the FCC Media Bureau, and three communications counselors: Ann Bobeck, senior vice president and deputy general council at the NAB; John Burgett, a partner at Wiley, Rein LLP; and John Garziglia, a partner at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP.
John Garziglia. ‘There are now several thousand still-pending FM translator applications. There are a number of broadcasters who would like to ultimately acquire one or more of these translators.’ What topics are likely to be on the minds of the engineers and managers in attendance?
“The proposed changes to the translator/LPFM rules are, as you know, wide-ranging and presage a new era in terms of additional LPFM service, particularly to the more populated markets, as well as the first time in nearly 10 years that any significant number of the translator applications from the 2003 deluge will begin to be processed,” Smith said.
“There are a lot of outstanding questions as to possible new or changed power levels, protection to full-power stations, particularly regarding second adjacencies and the mechanisms by which such interference will be defined as well as just how to properly employ the so called ‘grid’ allocation system advanced by the commission”
Of particular significance to full-power broadcasters, he said, are worries about interference and the eventual availability of newly licensed translators for use in both AM as well as HD multicast simulcasts.
Waivers should be ‘rare’
Asked what concerns the National Association of Broadcasters has about the translator/LPFM situation, an association spokesperson summarized its position on the issue:
“The FCC needs to make sure that FM stations, translators as well as LPFM stations remain free of interference. The FCC should establish clear rules, and not allow any LPFMs that might cause interference, because they would have to cease operations immediately and potentially lose their investment. And, FM stations believe that waivers for LPFMs to operate on second-adjacent should be rare and only approved under special conditions, such as when a third-adjacent channel is not available.
“Finally, the FCC should not permit LPFMs that operate at 250 watts, because the Act and its conditions are based on the common technical understanding that LPFMs are 100-watt services.”
Session panelist and attorney John Garziglia said the commission moving forward on LPFMs “is almost certainly predicated upon the FCC first clearing out a number of pending FM translator applications through dismissals, and granting some others. There are now several thousand still-pending FM translator applications. There are a number of broadcasters who would like to ultimately acquire one or more of these translators even though they may not have applied for one prior to the FCC allowing for AM stations, and HD2 stations, to be re-broadcast on FM translators.
“Right now, the path to such an acquisition is not clear.”
On the subject of LPFM stations, Garziglia also writes: “Since broadcasters cannot own LPFMs, the FCC’s expected opening of an LPFM window sometime in the next year or so has less attraction and less interest to broadcasters.
“Nonetheless, the opening of an LPFM window might be an opportunity for broadcasters to assist certain groups in their community such as a school or established community organization to acquire an LPFM station as a training ground for future broadcasters. After all, there are more than several great broadcasters out there that got their start at college radio stations. Expanding the opportunities for future broadcasters by helping with the inception of an LPFM station might be good both for the community and for the future of broadcasting.”
John Burgett. ‘I expect that [a pending FCC] decision will tighten any loose ends which remain regarding stations’ efforts to move in to urbanized areas and will attempt to ‘clarify’ what the agency will allow in terms of loss of service.’ City of license
Attorney John Burgett said the biggest issue facing radio right now is how the commission intends to revise or clarify its policies regarding city of license changes.
“The FCC’s Rural Radio Order released back in March 2011 significantly changed the manner in which the FCC reviews city of license changes by making it much more difficult for stations to relocate from rural areas into urbanized areas. The commission is poised to release a decision soon addressing the several petitions for reconsideration filed by broadcasters questioning the FCC’s assumptions underlying the Rural Radio Order.
“I expect that the decision will tighten any loose ends which remain regarding stations’ efforts to move in to urbanized areas and will attempt to ‘clarify’ what the agency will allow in terms of loss of service.”
But in doing so, Burgett said, he expects the policies to become more complex and require more engineering assistance.
Broadcasters with FM translator applications dating back to the 2003 filing window, he continued, “should be thinking about which of those applications they want to pursue consistent with the national cap of 50 applications and the market-based cap of one application per market for the 156 markets identified by the FCC in its March 2012 Order. The commission is expected to issue a public notice soon setting deadlines for applicants to identify the applications they want processed consistent with these limits.”
Jim Bradshaw of the FCC also expects a great deal of interest in translator and LPFM topics; and he points out another topic of interest.
“Section III, Question 7 on Form 303-S previously required completing an Exhibit/RFR Worksheet to demonstrate compliance with FCC Rules,” he said.
“This has been replaced with a certification for those stations which have had no material change in their RF environment since the station last received a grant of license application or license renewal application. Only those stations that have had a material change in their RF environment require the filing of an Exhibit or Worksheet demonstrating compliance with RFR Rules.”
Further, EAS is likely to be part of the discussion. New EAS rules became effective July 1. These required most broadcasters to purchase new equipment and comply with CAP monitoring and retransmission requirements.
James Bradshaw. ‘Only those stations that have had a material change in their RF environment require the filing of an Exhibit or Worksheet demonstrating compliance with RFR Rules.’
Stations should have their equipment installed and operational. For those that do not, for whatever reasons, what enforcement action might the FCC take? How will the FCC treat stations where Internet access is limited or simply not available? What plans are in place for a next EAS National Test? How far along are state and local plans?
Panel participant Ann Bobeck of NAB said the “vast majority of radio stations” have made the upgrade in equipment to CAP. “There are a few pending waivers at the FCC, due to equipment order delays or lack of access to broadband. Radio broadcasters will work with our federal partners in participating in the next national diagnostic EAS test.”
Another possible topic of interest is the matter of online public files. NAB has filed suit challenging the commission’s online political file rules as applied to local TV stations, saying the regulations are arbitrary and capricious. Though these do not yet apply to radio, most observers believe they eventually will, if upheld.
Also, the use of modulation-dependent carrier level technology is being studied by the National Radio Systems Committee, which is expected to release a report on it soon.
NAB Vice President of Science and Technology John Marino said, “Current experimentation with MDCL looks very positive. We understand that stations testing MDCL are showing transmitter electricity savings of up to 30 percent in some cases.”
Radio World asked Marino when NAB might release the details of another report, one prepared for its board exploring technical and regulatory options for AM radio.
“NAB does not have any immediate plans to release the report,” he replied. “It is the result of discussions only among members of our NAB Radio Technology Committee and at this time the report has not been fully reviewed or studied by others.”