Twice this week, the FCC released decisions denying applications proposing city of license changes for AM stations proposing to take away the only station licensed to one community and move it to another. In its order adopting simplified city of license changes (see our previous posts including those here and here), the FCC refused to change its policy of not allowing the removal of an established radio station which is the only station licensed to a community except in cases where an extraordinary showing justifying a waiver of the rules could be made. The two cases decided this week show that merely moving to a community with greater population (even one which has no other station licensed to it) will not, in and of itself, justify a waiver of the rules. Thus, stations which are the only station licensed to their communities are effectively blocked from changing cities of license without providing a "back-fill", i.e. moving another station so that it can be licensed to the community that would otherwise be abandoned.
In one case decided this week, the broadcaster proposed to move its AM station to a community that had three times the population of the one that it was proposing to leave. The Commission rejected the move, finding that the residents of the current community should be able to rely on continued service from that station. This was true even though other stations could be received in the community, as the Commission reminded licensees that their primary responsibility is to serve the needs of their city of license, and that this primary service cannot be duplicated by the secondary service provided by a station licensed to another town or city.
The second case was similarly decided. There, the Commission made clear that, while the community to which the applicant proposed to move would have been favored over its current community had the choice been between which one most deserved a new station, the fact that the the station was already licensed and operating in the first community meant that its listeners had a presumption that the service should be retained. Even though the station was not physically moving its transmitter site and would not change its coverage, the Commission found that change in city of license would result in the loss of an outlet required to serve the community as its primary obligation. Together, these cases make clear that stations licensed to a community cannot be easily moved without some as yet undefined unique circumstance, or unless another station can be moved to the first community to replace the station that is being moved.