Only half-joking, NAB Radio Board Chairman Russ Withers asked FCC Chairman Kevin Martin whether it is necessary to get a Congressman to ask the FCC for a waiver allowing an AM station to get an STA (special temporary authority) for an FM translator. The rare STAs issued thus far have been granted at the behest of the local US Representative, which has had some broadcasters grumbling about special treatment, while other owners of signal-handicapped AMs have to wait for the FCC to act on the pending rulemaking which would spell out procedures for AMs to qualify for FM translators. But they may not have to wait after all. Martin said it never hurts to have a Member of Congress in your corner, but the Commission is ready now to consider waiver requests, even while still working on the pending rulemaking. By the way, Martin sounded very supportive of adopting such a rule.
(Don’t open the floodgates, though. Peter Doyle, Chief of the Audio Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau, later clarified for RBR/TVBR that Martin was referring only to an AM station acquiring use of an existing FM translator, which was the case with the STAs which have been granted, but that no applications will be considered for AM stations seeking to create new FM translators.)
Withers was pointedly critical of the proposed merger of XM and Sirius, but didn’t get Martin to show his hand on whether or not the deal will win FCC approval. Martin noted, though, that the satellite radio companies face a high threshold since the Commission adopted a rule banning such a merger when it created the satellite radio service, with two nationwide licenses. Withers and Martin got into an interesting exchange on whether the "New York Minute" hosted by Cousin Brucie that Sirius has announced for its NYC traffic and weather channel is in keeping with its license for a strictly national service. Martin insisted that it did, since the channel is offered nationwide, although there might be less interest in it by subscribers in Phoenix. Withers said he could understand why Sirius would "waste" its spectrum elsewhere to target such a large market, but noted that the satellite companies would never be willing to provide local traffic and weather for Mt. Vernon, IL. Well, Martin said, that means that Withers has nothing to worry about in Mt. Vernon.
Withers finished up with a softball question for the Chairman: What is the future of radio broadcasting? Martin noted that while people do now have the opportunity to use many other media platforms, "radio’s ability to provide highly localized information will be important for a long time."
TVBR/RBR observation: A tip of the hat to Russ Withers. His gentle grilling of Chairman Martin was great fun. They covered a lot of territory and Martin provided a lot of insight into his thinking about issues near and dear to radio broadcasters, but Russ injected a good bit of humor and Martin responded in kind. We in the audience hated to see the jovial and informative chat come to an end.