After rendering the AM dial a garbled mess after sunset by cramming in too many stations along with space-hogging HD signals, in 2007 the commercial radio industry came a-calling to the FCC with it’s hand out. It’s request? To let AM radio stations have repeater stations–called translators–on the FM dial.
While sitting on the NAB’s proposal for nearly two years, the Commission quietly let AM stations utilize FM translators that their parent companies already owned, provided they applied for what is known as “special temporary authority.” Then, this past July, the FCC made the policy official.
Those of us concerned that the rule would signal an influx of new commercial low-power stations eating up frequencies that might otherwise go to community LPFM stations were relieved. The Commission’s new rule essentially reflected its earlier shadow policy, only permitting AM stations to use already existing FM translators. The Commission also signaled that no new opportunities to obtain a commercial FM translator was imminent.
While I still think it’s bad policy, it could be a lot worse. Commercial translator owners now will have to make a choice as to whether it’s more valuable to repeat their AM or FM stations. Also, the same existing rules apply which limit commercial translator to being located only within its parent station’s broadcast area. This is because the commercial translator station’s purpose is to fill in areas where geographic or other anomalies hinder reception where otherwise one would be expected to receive a station. Noncommercial translators are not subject to this restriction, and may be located any distance away from parent stations. So, a commercial AM station’s new translator still has to be located in its protected broadcast radius.
As the CommLawBlog gleefully reminds us, this new policy kicks into affect on October 1. It will be interesting to see which, if any, AM stations take advantage of this opportunity, or if the rule sparks a spike in selling and exchanging FM translator licenses.
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