The FCC today adopted an Order revising its rules to permit the rebroadcast of AM radio stations on FM translator stations.  A copy of the Order is available here.  By this Order, the FCC formally adopted the interim policy that it has experimented with in the past year and a half since the release of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making in this proceeding.  The Commission acknowledged that the interim rule has worked well and that allowing AM stations the same flexibility to use FM translators to enhance their service is in the public interest. 

Per today’s Order:  "Specifically, AM broadcast stations will be allowed to use currently authorized FM translator stations (i.e., those now licensed or authorized in construction permits that have not expired) to rebroadcast their AM signals, provided that no portion of the 60 dBu contour of any such FM translator station extends beyond the smaller of: (a) a 25-mile radius from the AM transmitter site; or (b) the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station. In addition, AM broadcast licensees with Class D facilities will be allowed to originate programming on such FM translators during periods when their AM station is not operating."

Several things to note:

First, "currently authorized FM translators" means translator stations with licenses or permits in effect as of May 1st, 2009.  As expected, there is no opportunity to seek authorization for new FM translators, and by extension, there was no need for the FCC to address the issue of priorities between LPFM stations and FM translators (which the FCC says it will address in the pending LPFM rule making).  So this rule change simply allows existing FM translator stations to rebroadcast AM stations.

Second, the translator stations must be co-owned with the AM station being rebroadcast or else have written consent to rebroadcast the AM station (just as a translator must for an FM station).  The rules will allow AM licensees to enter into agreements for the rebroadcast of their station on FM translators licensed to unrelated entities in the non-reserved band.  However, this policy does not extend to FM translators in the reserved band. So AM stations can’t enter into agreements with unrelated entities to rebroadcast their signals on reserved band translators.

Third, just as with FM stations, translators cannot be used to extend the contour of an AM station, and must be wholly contained within the 2 mV/m daytime contour and the 25-mile radius.  Similarly, the financial support rule remains the same, so AM licensees may not provide financial support for a translator in situations where an FM licensee could not do so.

Finally, just as with FM stations, there is no numeric limit on the number of fill-in FM translators allowed for an AM station, other than the existing limitation on the ability to hold multiple translators serving the "same area" absent a showing of technical need.

The Order is intended to go into effect as soon as possible, and the new rules will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register (or after OMB approval if it is later).  As of the effective date of this Order, the FCC will dismiss any pending or previously granted STAs allowing the rebroadcast of AM stations on FM translators, as they will no longer be necessary.  Consistent with the FCC’s rules, translator stations must simply notify the FCC of a change in the station it is rebroadcasting by filing a simple letter notification.