Do you want to start a new FM station? In what seems to have become a yearly event, the FCC has released a list of 117 new FM channels to be auctioned (a list that also includes the proposed minimum bid for each channel). The FCC also issued a “freeze” on FM applications that could impact these channels. The auction itself is scheduled to begin on March 26, 2013. If the Commission follows the schedule used in the last FM auction, we should expect that the deadline for the "short-form" application to participate in the auction (which basically contains information about the ownership of the applicant and a list of the channels in which they are interested) will be due in early 2013, likely sometime between January 1 and January 15, 2013. The upfront payment of the necessary minimum bids would then likely be due around February 20, 2013.
The channels in this auction on which new stations can be built are spread all across the country. Many are located in large western states, including multiple channels in California, Oklahoma, Arizona and Texas, among other states. If you are interested in starting a station from scratch, look through this list of channels to see if there are opportunities for a construction permit for a new station in an area of interest. If you find something that you might consider, you need to start your due diligence on each channel now, as any bidder is responsible for insuring that the channel for which they are bidding can be built and will serve the audience that you expect. If you win the auction and decide that you can’t really find a transmitter site, then you may well be on the hook for the full amount of the bid even if you don’t build the station. And, if you are successful in the auction, you will have to have an available transmitter site to specify in your "long-form" application submitted about a month after the end of the auction – an application that will specify all of the technical details of the new station. So look at zoning issues, FAA considerations, coverage questions, and even whether technical details like the rural radio order limiting move-ins of FM stations from rural to more urban areas, may limit the potential economic value of the channel in which you are interested.
The FCC’s freeze on applications that could impact these new stations is in place until the winning bidders file their post-auction applications. No applications or rule-makings can be filed that would request a change in one of these channels, or which would be short-spaced to one of the reference coordinates for these allocations.
The Commission also put out for comment its proposed auction procedures. If adopted, these will be the procedures that will be used for this upcoming auction, which the FCC refers to as Auction 94. Comments on these proposed procedures are due on October 10.
While there may be opportunities in the list of available channels, in recent FM auctions there have been a number of channels for which no one has submitted bids, even after the channels were available in several auctions. In the channels listed for this new auction, about 25 are leftovers from the last auction, either having been left unsold or cases where the winning bidder defaulted. If channels are not purchased in multiple auctions, the FCC will eventually delete these channels.
Opportunities for new FM stations are coming your way. Take a look for ones that might be of interest to you, and start preparing now to file your initial application to participate – probably in early January.