Clyburn open to discussing reallocation of Channels 5 & 6 to radio


The proposal to buck up AM radio, non-commercial FM radio and low-power FM by unleashing a new swathe of spectrum got a shot in the arm from FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who brought the topic up at the 35th Annual Community Radio Conference in St. Paul MN.

Television channels 5 and 6 have been notoriously difficult to use for that medium, and Clyburn believes they might pose equally vexing problems when made available for broadband purposes.

But they may offer a home for radio broadcasters. Channel 5 runs from 76 MHz to 82 MHz, and Channel 6 picks up there and carries on right to the southern border of the FM reserved band at 88 MHz.

Clyburn observed, “Now that the Commission has made spectrum policy a centerpiece of its agenda, I believe it is time that we consider the fate of Channels 5 and 6 as they relate to current radio service. These channels have proven difficult for television broadcasting, and I have a hard time imagining that they would fare much better as additional spectrum for mobile broadband use. This spectrum is not well suited for digital transmissions. It certainly is possible that this spectrum could be used for LPFM, expanded NCE use, and AM broadcasters.”

She continued, “I am not suggesting that the Commission move today to reallocate this spectrum for such uses. What I am suggesting, however, is that it is time for us to take a serious look at where these services fit within the overall spectrum plan, and that Channels 5 and 6 may be a good home. I will be encouraging my colleagues to take a look at this issue as we move forward with a long-term spectrum program, and I urge you to continue to weigh in about how the services you provide are worthy of a hard look when it comes to this spectrum in particular.”

She also suggested that community broadcasters explore possibilities both on the internet and by using HD radio to expand their capabilities.

Clyburn expressed strong reservations about the internet’s ability to take over the provision of all the news people want. “For local news and information, there is almost no source better than community radio. The people in this audience understand their communities, and work to become integral parts of them. I urge you to continue to lead in this endeavor, and that others soon follow suit.”

The conference was a function of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.

RBR-TVBR observation: We have thought that this idea has merit for some time, although recent hard times in the radio sphere do give rise to second thoughts about this being a great time to bring a baby radio station into the world.

But if existing users of that chunk of spectrum can be moved to their satisfaction, it would provide a place for underpowered AM stations to relocate, as well as a place to house LPFM stations without risking interference to incumbents. And it also offers an excellent opportunity to find a home on the dial for the socially-disadvantaged businesses, often run by minorities and/or women, which simply isn’t available on the already crowded AM and FM bands.