At today’s FCC open meeting, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making ("NPRM") to begin the process of implementing the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, passed by Congress last year, and to chart a path to the licensing of new LPFM stations. (See our earlier posting here regarding the Local Community Radio Act of 2010.)
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.
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.