FCC Finally Issues AM Revitalization Order

Posted on October 30th, 2015 by

After much deliberation and delay, the FCC has finally acted in its proceeding to revitalize the AM broadcast band, adopting in a single document an order, further proposed rulemaking, and a notice of inquiry.

While the order relaxed AM station city-grade requirements, eliminated the ratchet rule, eliminated the need to get prior approval to use MDCL technology, and relaxed AM antenna efficiency standards, the FM translator opportunities adopted by the FCC have gotten the most attention, by far.

AM stations that have long desired to acquire an FM translator for use with their station have been frustrated by the FCC’s existing restrictions on FM translator modifications, which only allowed moves over short distances and therefore limited the pool of available translators that could be acquired by AM stations. The FCC’s order eliminates those restrictions by allowing FM translators to be relocated up to 250 miles to a rule-and interference-compliant vacant FM channel with a transmitter location and 60 dBu coverage within the permissible AM station contour.

Two modification filing periods or windows will be opened in 2016 for this purpose. The first will be six months long, and allow Class C & D stations to apply to acquire and modify such translators. The second filing period will immediately follow the first and will be three months long, with all classes of AM stations (except for those who filed in the first window) eligible to participate.

If you were thinking this might all start in late 2016, think again. The Media Bureau has already issued a public notice about the first modification window, which will open in the first quarter of 2016. And that means the second window will open in the third quarter of 2016. So stations should be acting now to capitalize on these opportunities.

Significantly, the FCC has indicated that it will allow reasonable extensions of FM translator permits that are set to expire, so applicants in these two modification windows should not eliminate permits expiring in 2016 in their search.

But wait, there’s more. If an AM station does not file an application in the 2016 modification windows, it will be eligible to file in two auction windows, the first of which will launch in 2017 and be open only to Class C & D stations, followed by a second auction window open to all AM station classes (except those that participated in the first auction window).

The FCC has also proposed additional rule changes that create flexibility and cost savings for AM stations, and has requested additional information and comment on a proposal to grant main studio waivers for commercial AM owners that own and consolidate a studio with other co-owned stations located outside the current main studio location limits, or to allow a reduction in station minimum staffing requirements to single station owners (and perhaps others). Either proposal could create substantial cost savings for station owners.

Now that the FCC has opened the door to additional changes, AM stations should flood the FCC with comments in support of these or other changes so that maximum relief can be obtained.