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Keeping Tabs on Translator Logistics

Categories count when talking about 250-mile window FM translator moves

As the industry continues to take advantage of the 250-mile FM translator move window for AM stations opened by the Federal Communications Commission, questions begin to swirl about next steps in the process, the anticipated 2017 AM-exclusive FM translator auction filing windows.

Will translator licensees and permittees find it a challenge to get a moved translator authorization built ahead of the next round of applications? What if there are delays or things don’t move according to plan? Most importantly, how likely is it that the FM translator channels abandoned in moves under the 250-mile window will be available for other AM stations in the anticipated 2017 auction filing window?

Radio World reached out to attorney and regulatory expert John Garziglia, a partner with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, who shared his thoughts about the issue of the former channels of moved FM translators remaining protected.

To begin, it must be understood that there are two categories of 250-mile window FM translator moves, he said. The first category is a move of a licensed already-built FM translator.

“When a licensed already-built FM translator is moved under the FCC’s 250-mile policies, the construction permit gives a three-year time period to construct,” Garziglia said. “The licensed facility which will be abandoned remains protected while the newly-granted construction permit is outstanding and un-built.

“Upon the completion of construction under the construction permit, a license application must be filed,” he continued. “Upon a grant of the license application for the modified facility for a licensed FM translator, the previously licensed abandoned site goes away and is no longer an issue.”

The second category is a move of an un-built never-licensed FM translator.

When a never-licensed FM translator is granted a move under the FCC’s 250-mile policies, Garziglia said, that translator facility immediately moves to the new location in the commission database. And important to note: The previous abandoned location is no longer protected.

Thus, he said, under a 250-mile move in the first category of a licensed already-built FM translator, the licensee of that translator could take up to three years to construct and move. During that time, both the licensed and the construction permit facility would be protected, he said — thus clearly raising the issue of former FM translator facilities possibly remaining protected during the 2017.

But, Garziglia pointed out, during the 250-mile window, many of the moves filed were for the second category of un-built never-licensed FM translators which do not have the previous site protected for any amount of time.

There’s also another time element to consider. For licensees in the first category of licensed already-built FM translators, the time element to pay attention to is the one-year time period that an FM translator can be off the air prior to losing its license.

In many of these 250-mile moves of licensed already-built FM translators, Garziglia said, the FM translator is taken off the air upon its acquisition — thus the clock begins to wind down on the one-year time period for the translator to return to the air or lose its license.

“That one-year time period, not the three-year construction permit time period, will be the decisive time element for this first category of FM translators, meaning that it is likely that these translators will be moved and licensed at new sites, and the previous abandoned sites no longer protected, by mid-2017,” Garziglia said.

Therefore, while there may be some FM translators protected at both existing sites and new sites when the 2017 FM translator auction window for AM stations opens, Garziglia does not expect this to be a large number. He notes a final consideration: In many of the rural areas that FM translators were moved from, there are a multitude of otherwise available FM translator frequencies. Therefore, even if there should be one frequency remaining blocked in these rural areas, there likely will be alternative FM translator channels available.

The current 250-mile translator window for moving FM translators to carry AM stations now remains opens through Oct. 31 for Class A, B, C and D AM stations. There is no indication yet from the FCC when the 2017 AM-exclusive FM translator auction window will open.