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Whups! No LPFM for You, Johns Hopkins

FCC reverses course in resolving a seven-way application battle

In the process of sorting out multiple competing applications for desirable LPFM radio station construction permits in populous U.S. cities, the Federal Communications Commission’s “points system” can play a crucial role.

Consider Baltimore, where seven entities were contesting for one available FM slot, part of the larger ongoing expansion in the number of low-power FM radio stations in the country.

The commission this week changed course and rescinded a decision that had tentatively awarded Johns Hopkins University a construction permit for the low-power license.

Instead, three applicants are now tentatively selected. They are the Center for Emerging Media Inc., The Benedictine Society of Baltimore City and The United Workers Association. Barring further developments or an agreement among them, those three will share the new radio station slot on a time-share basis.

On the losing end of this are Loyola University Maryland, which had filed a petition to deny the Johns Hopkins application, as well as three applicants that had filed their own proposed time-share agreement: The Benedictine Society of Baltimore City; St. Joseph’s Sykesville Roman Catholic Congregation Inc.; and Johns Hopkins.

All were competing in what the FCC listed as mutually exclusive group number 198, one of several such “MX” groupings around the country that it has been working through. The commission’s point system then kicked in, weighing factors like diversity of ownership, established community presence, commitment to originate local programming and other factors.

Loyola University Maryland, whose application fell one point shy of several others, challenged the FCC’s calculation of “diversity of ownership” points, including a disagreement over how to treat a Loyola board member who holds ownership interests in two AM stations in the area. The FCC took a point away from another applicant but denied Loyola’s argument for its own added point.

After various legal back and forths, the outcome was that the FCC reversed its initial finding in favor of Johns Hopkins and now gives those three other entities 90 days to work out possible time-share details. (St. Joseph’s subsequently modified its own application and was awarded a separate “singleton” CP.)

For those interested in how the FCC calculates and assesses points in such situations, you can read the details here.

Looking at the national picture: According to consultancy REC Networks, which follows the LPFM service closely, the only pending disputed groups of mutually exclusive LPFM applications are in San Francisco, where two groups of two applicants are vying for 102.5 MHz, and a highly desirable Southern California opportunity, where 18 organizations seek a presence on 101.5.

(REC also posted a more detailed discussion of the Baltimore case, which you can read here.)