AM on FM gets FCC nod


According to FCC regulations, AM stations may now apply for FM translators to fill in-contour gaps in their coverage, and will also allow daytimers to use the translators to provide nighttime service. The FCC says LPFMs will also be provided for. That’s because translators for AM must already be authorized, either in the form of an up-and-running facility or an unexpired CP. The FCC expects to open up new frequencies for any subsequent LPFM proceeding.

The FCC explains that licensees may use the translators to “rebroadcast their AM signals, provided that no portion of the 60 dBu contour of any such FM translator station extends beyond the smaller of: (a) a 25-mile radius from the AM transmitter site; or (b) the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station. In addition, AM broadcast licensees with Class D facilities will be allowed to originate programming on such FM translators during periods when their AM station is not operating. We take these steps to permit AM broadcasters to better serve their local communities and thus promote the Commission’s bedrock goals of localism, competition, and diversity in the broadcast media.

LPFM advocate Prometheus had argued against this measure on the grounds that it would make it harder to establish the LPFM service. Those who debated Prometheus said that AMs and would-be LPFM licensees should receive equal treatment, pointed out that LPFM stations were expected to be assigned specific new frequencies while AMs on FM were limited to existing facilities, and pointed out that there was no reason based on recent history to expect a massive migration of AM stations to translators. The FCC acknowledged that Prometheus has a legitimate concern but said LPFMs, not translators, will be the beneficiary of the next new station window.

NAB applauded the measure. Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said, “AM stations broadcast some of the most localized programming in America, providing listeners with all-news, all-sports and all-talk formats focusing on community issues. Allowing the use of FM translators will help stations overcome some of the many technical challenges that are unique to AM broadcasting. We salute the FCC for recognizing the important role played by AM stations across the country.”

In supporting the measure, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell was effusive in his praise of AM broadcasters in general. “The record before us confirms that many AM broadcasters do an excellent job of serving targeted demographics and interests within their communities.  Furthermore, the evidence shows that AM broadcasters provide hyper-local information to many areas of the country, especially small towns and rural areas that might otherwise be deprived of such content.  The rule changes we adopt here reflect a reasonable compromise to give AM broadcasters more options and, at the same time, allow for the future growth of new competitors in the low power FM service.

The Commission itself echoed these remarks, writing in its Report and Order, “For decades, AM radio service has been an integral part of American life. AM radio remains an important component of the mass media landscape and a vital provider of broadcast service to local communities across the country. As the Commission has previously stated, AM often offers the only radio service to listeners in a variety of circumstances, particularly those living in and traveling through rural areas. AM radio stations commonly provide unique, community responsive formats to distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive media market. All-news/talk, all-sports, foreign language, and religious programming formats are common on the AM band, as are discussions of local news, politics and public affairs, traffic announcements and coverage of community events such as high school athletic events. In fact, over 90% of all news/talk formats are on stations operating in the AM band.”

RBR/TVBR observation: As for the conflict between AMs and LPFMs, many commented that LPFM will get the next crack at openings, and that rule changes may create many new openings that do not exist now. The FCC has been trying to squeeze LPFMs into third adjacencies, and it looks like Congress may soon get around to instructing it to do saw via legislation.

So this is a great day for AM – especially all the excellent free PR material penned for it by McDowell and the FCC – and it shouldn’t put too much of a hurt on would-be LPFMers.