It’s come to our attention that the FCC’s Media Bureau has recently been granting applications for changes in the transmitter sites of FM translators to be used for AM stations with conditions on the subsequent use of that translator. The conditions seem to be added to the construction permits granted to applicants who filed an application for a site change and relied on the Mattoon waiver (see our discussion of that waiver here) to expedite the relocation to the new transmitter site. The condition requires that the translator be used only with the AM station for a period of 4 years.
A similar condition was proposed in connection with the FCC’s proceeding on AM improvements, where the FCC proposed to open a window for the filing of applications for new translators, but to limit the applicants to AM licensees who want to use those translators to rebroadcast their AM station (see our summary of the proposal for a translator window for AM station owners here). Obviously, that proposal for an AM-only window for translator applicants has not been adopted, and there has been some objection to the proposal to permanent tie any translator granted as a result of that window to the AM station that initially asks for it. For instance, some comments suggest that a translator be allowed to change primary stations if the primary station is moved to another AM in the same market owned by the same company, or that it be allowed to be transferred should the AM station cease operations (as there will no doubt be some AMs that may not be able to survive even with an FM translator). But, in the new condition now being added to translator moves granted pursuant to a Mattoon waiver, any such limitation is not provided.
The condition is a blanket requirement that the translator and AM operate together for 4 years. Here is the language of the condition:
Special operating conditions or restrictions:
Pursuant to the waiver of 47 CFR Section 74.1233(a)(1) granted herein the permittee/licensee shall be subject to a holding period. From the grant of the construction permit and continuing until the facility has achieved four years of on-air operations rebroadcasting the AM station identified on this authorization, the permittee/licensee may NOT change the station being rebroadcast by this translator. Periods of station silence shall not count toward the fulfillment of this four-year requirement. During this same four year period the permittee/licensee may not assign or transfer the construction permit/license to another party, unless it is to the licensee of the AM station being rebroadcast. Minor modifications of this authorization are permitted, provided the translator will continue to rebroadcast the AM station for which the waiver was granted.
Where did the 4 years come from, or the condition itself? It is unclear. As we have written before (see the discussion at the end of this article), the FCC has been tightening up on the use of Mattoon waivers, even though such waivers would seem to make the processing of translator applications easier, not harder for the FCC and applicants by limiting the need for filing FCC applications for and building intermediate “hops” when trying to move a translator a significant distance (but to a location still mutually exclusive with the licensed site). But the FCC has started to add this condition to Mattoon waiver grants, so don’t overlook it if you are filing for such a translator and may have future plans that don’t necessarily include rebroadcasting your AM for a 4 year period.