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AM on FM Begins Oct. 1

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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2 Responses to AM on FM Begins Oct. 1

  1. Michi-chan September 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    Some major clarifications to this article:

    – First, the FCC is only allowing this on EXISTING authorizations.. as long as the CP has been granted. There are many pending translator applications that have not been granted, especially in the metro areas. LPFM still has hope here. (See R&O at 20)

    – The FCC’s statement that no new opportunities for translators is because they still have a huge mess to clean up right now. They need to make headway on that mess and then it will be LPFM’s turn. (The FCC has noted multiple times that there will be another LPFM window before any new translator window).

    I don’t see this ruling as bad for localism. I do see it as a way of rewarding Radio Assist Ministries, Edgewater and the other speculative filers who can now get more value for their construction permits.

    Michi Eyre
    founder, REC Networks

  2. Paul Riismandel September 7, 2009 at 8:49 pm #


    I didn’t mean to imply that the FCC was allowing the AM on FM translators on anything but existing authorizations. In fact, I expressed relief about that very fact.

    Luckily, RAM and Edgewater can only sell their translator CPs and licenses to other noncomms. And there are many fewer noncomms on the AM dial than the FM.


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