With today’s Federal Register publication of the FCC’s recent Order amending the rules governing FM Translator stations, the date is officially set at October 1st for when AM stations can begin to rebroadcast their signals on FM translators.   Beginning October 1st, the long-standing prohibition on rebroadcasting AM radio on FM translators is off the books and translators are free to pick up an AM signal.  As of that date, no further authority will be required from the FCC in order for an FM translator to rebroadcast an AM station. 

In fact, any existing STAs (Special Temporary Authority) previously granted by the Commission for such rebroadcasts will be canceled as of October 1st, as they will no longer be necessary.  Accordingly, FM translator stations that are currently rebroadcasting an AM signal pursuant to an STA should follow the FCC’s standard procedures and simply file a letter with the FCC indicating the full power station that is being carried.  Just as for the rebroadcast of an FM station, a translator stations must notify the Commission in writing of any change in the station being rebroadcast. 

As we summarized earlier, the rules governing rebroadcasts of AM stations are fairly similar to those for rebroadcasting FM.  The main issue with respect to AM rebroadcasts is that no portion of the 60 dBu contour of the FM translator station may extend 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.  Further, AM broadcast licensees with Class D (daytime-only) facilities will be allowed to originate programming on such FM translators during periods when the AM station is not operating.  So daytime-only AM stations can continue operating at night on a fill-in FM translator. 

In addition, a few other points to note:

First, this rule change is not an opportunity to seek authorizations for brand new translators.   Rather, only "currently authorized FM translators," meaning translator stations with licenses or permits in effect as of May 1st, 2009, can be used to carry AM signals.

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 cannot enter into agreements with unrelated entities to rebroadcast their signals on reserved band translators. 

Finally, although FM Translators are not subject to the multiple ownership rules, the Commission warns that it will be considered an abuse of the FCC’s rules to use two or more cross-service translators to effectively create a de facto FM station or to circumvent the local ownership limits.