The FCC issued another nineteen construction permits for new low-power FM radio stations in the last week, brining the grand total to 1821. Ten of these went to organizations in four cities that will have to abide involuntary time-shares.
In each city there was an MX group of two or more applicants competing for a single frequency which the FCC judged to be equally eligible. In such situations the competing groups have an opportunity to reach time-share agreements amongst themselves. When the applicants fail to do so–as in these three cases–the FCC determines the arrangements.
Even in this process applicants get a 20-day window to lobby for their preferred hours, which the Commission then awards based upon how long an applicant has been in existence as a local group. This doesn’t affect the number of hours in the time-share–the split is always equal–just which hours are assigned.
These involuntary time-shares are:
- 100.5 FM Santa Rosa, CA
- Ya-Ka-Ama Indian Education & Development
- City of Truth
- 92.7 FM Miami, FL
- Action for better future
- 1 Miami, Inc
- Tabernacle of Glory Community Center, Inc
- 101.5 FM San Antonio, TX
- Esperanza Peace and Justice Center
- Lighthouse Network, Inc.
- Martinez Street Women’s Center
- 107.1 FM Ormond Beach, FL
- We’ve a Voice, Inc.
- Pal of Florida, Inc
This past week also saw three approvals for LPFM applicants who were able to move out of an MX group competition by changing their application to a new frequency. These stations are:
- Beware Inc. in Miami, which moved out of the time-share group for 92.7 listed above to its own frequency on 103.1 FM
- Premiere International, which changed to 99.7 FM in Fort Meyers, FL, leaving an MX group at 107.7 FM
- Unlimited Recovery Inc going from 103.7 to 102.1 in Douglasville, GA
At this point most of the applications left to be processed are those in MX groups competing for a frequency. That was a topic I covered in the LPFM Extra feature last week in our Radio Survivor Bulletin email newsletter. We provide exclusive insights on LPFM, FCC proceedings, college radio, podcasting and radio scholarship in every newsletter, so you should definitely consider subscribing. It’s free, and we’ll never sell or share your contact info.
Because this feature is so pertinent to this week’s low-power FM action I’m republishing an updated version here.
LPFM Extra: All Eyes on MX Groups
Now that the FCC has processed 90% of all LPFM applications from the 2013 window one the biggest hurdles for finishing things is the remaining MX groups. Each of these groups has two more more applicants competing for a single frequency. There were three windows of MX groups, divided by geographic region, each with their own space of time during which applicants could make major amendments to their applications, such as changing their frequency to get out of their MX group. The last of these windows–covering Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas–closed March 23.
By and large the MX groups that remain are unresolved because the applicants all have equal standing on the merits of their applications. Each applicant receives a number of points based upon things like having a local studio presence or being a non-profit educational organization. Generally speaking, the applicant with the most points wins out over any other applicant in an MX group.
During the MX windows applicants had the option to join forces and pool together points for time-sharing agreements in order to prevail over other applicants. So, if an MX group has three applicants with five points each, two can join together for a timesharing agreement, pooling their 10 points against the remaining applicant’s five. At this point most of these deals have been hammered out and submitted to the FCC for review.
The biggest group proposing a timeshare involves seven applicants who propose to pool their total of 35 points in order share time on 101.5 FM in Los Angeles. Two competing timeshares of four and five applicants have each pooled 25 points. And that still leaves four remaining applicants left out on their own.
There are three MX groups left where two or more applicants are tied in points and timeshare agreements have not been submitted. These cities are:
- Miami Shores / Hialeah Gardens, FL (2 apps) – 99.5
- Dallas / Duncanville / Arlington, TX (3 apps) – 95.7
- Brownsville, TX (2 apps) – 104.7
At this point unresolved MX groups risk having the FCC implement an involuntary timeshare, where each group gets a portion of the broadcast day on that frequency. So far there are only seven involuntary timeshares.
It’s important to understand that the Commission has little interest in doing this. The preferable outcome is that applicants resolve MX competitions themselves, either by coming to voluntary timeshares or finding a way to winnow down the number of applicants in the group.
Finally, there is one particularly notable MX stalemate in San Francisco. There are two groups of two applicants each that also have an equal number of points–ten–that are competing for 102.5 FM. It’s probable that an involuntary timeshare would not be desirable because the two sides have been locked into bitter disputes playing out through petitions to deny and informal objections against each other, filed with the FCC. From what I can tell some of the principals have worked together previously in other community radio projects, so I will only say that it seems unfortunate that they’re at such loggerheads.
While I’ve read all the filings, I’m not interested in getting into the details because I’m not sure yet what overarching lesson there is to take away. If the FCC rules on any of these petitions or filings I will certainly report on that.
Since all of the MX adjustment windows have closed, applicants may no longer request a move to new frequencies. One long-shot option could exist if an applicant can make the case that another open and LPFM-eligible frequency would be less subject to interference than the one originally applied for. It’s a long-shot because it would require both some engineering finesse and the availability of a suitable open frequency.
If one or more applicants were successful in making a last-ditch move it would be both a win for that applicant and others in the same MX group, and a win in the bigger picture. That’s because there would be more community stations on the air that wouldn’t be there under a timeshare.
This is important because any LPFM-eligible frequencies that are left unclaimed at the close of this licensing process very likely will never be available for LPFM again. First, there is an eager queue of full-power broadcasters waiting to get their hands on those channels to put translator stations on the air, especially in large urban markets. Second, there’s no known plan for an additional LPFM licensing window. And even if one were to happen, it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t open sooner than a decade from now. That’s why one might argue it’s vital to see as many LPFM stations make it on the air now.