Almost two years ago, the FCC launched its AM revitalization efforts with great flourish, and promises of prompt action. We wrote about the two aspects of potential assistance for AM stations that were proposed in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – technical proposals which mostly focused on ways to make the relocation of AM stations easier (see our article here) and the quick-fix proposal for new FM translators reserved for AM stations, a band-aid to keep AM stations alive while a new more permanent solution for these stations could be found (see our post here). The comments on the translator proposal, a filing window for new FM translators reserved for AM stations, were almost all positive. The vibrations from the FCC also seemed to be positive, and many AMs have been hanging on in anticipation of the coming of this filing window. This week, serious questions arose as to whether the FCC thinking on this issue has changed – and it appears that a translator window for AM stations may not in fact occur (or perhaps not in the manner that it was envisioned by most observers over the last two years).
This rethinking was first exhibited in an article on the FCC’s Blog, posted by FCC Chairman Wheeler on Monday morning, April 13, just as the National Association of Broadcasters Convention was beginning in Las Vegas. The article quickly became a prime topic of conversation among radio broadcasters at the convention. In the article, the Chairman promises to move quickly to resolve the issues posed in the AM NPRM, adopting some of the technical proposals that were set out in the NPRM, and proposing for future consideration new ideas for AM improvement. But what gathered the most attention were his comments on FM translators for AM stations. He wrote the following about that window:
I have two concerns about the record and whether opening such a window is necessary, given the current state of the marketplace. The first is whether there is an insufficient number of FM translator licenses available for AM stations….The second unanswered concern is why, if it is necessary to open the translator window, it should only be opened for one group… [I]f we are to assure that spectrum availability is an open opportunity, then the government shouldn’t favor one class of licensees with an exclusive spectrum opportunity unavailable to others just because the company owns a license in the AM band.
Conversations in Las Vegas centered around the meaning of these comments, comments that were further amplified in his speech before the NAB Convention on Wednesday. Continue Reading