For decades, the FCC has been attempting to solve problems with AM reception – in the 90s looking to protect AMs from each other, and today trying to assist them in overcoming the effects of background “noise” coming from the proliferation of electronic devices in the environment which make AM reception, particularly in urban areas, very difficult. Even a number of car makers have announced plans to remove AM radios from new vehicles – particularly electric ones – given these stations’ susceptibility to interference from in-car electronics. Is there a solution?

Bryan Broadcasting (a long-time client that I assisted with its pleading) thinks it is time that the FCC do something dramatic to give AM a long-term future. This week it filed a Petition for Rulemaking asking the FCC to allow any AM to go all-digital in its operation.  The pleading does not suggest that any AM be forced to convert to an all-digital operation – instead it proposes that stations be given the option to make that conversion whenever they want. This is not a new concept, the FCC having considered it in the past and, in its 2015 AM Revitalization Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, discussed listed it as an issue on which they wanted comments so that they could consider such a transition at some point in the future (that discussion principally advanced in the FCC’s questions about the future use of the expanded band – see our post here on that 2015 Order).  Already, there is one AM station in Maryland operating full-time with all-digital facilities under experimental authority, and several tests have been conducted across the country on this all-digital operation.  While these tests have shown many positive results, why suggest this option for AM stations to make this digital conversion now?
Continue Reading Time for All-Digital AM?  Petition for Rulemaking Asks that the FCC Allow It

Late last week, the FCC issued a “Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” in its AM Revitalization Proceeding. The FCC has been taking steps over the last several years to attempt to restore AM radio to health. In last week’s Further Notice, the FCC followed up on ideas that it floated in 2016 in a prior order in the AM revitalization proceeding (see our articles here and here) suggesting that protections afforded to Class A AM stations be lessened in order to allow increased power by other more localized AM stations. Class A stations, often referred to as “clear channel” stations, are those 50 kW AM stations that are currently given interference protections both during the day and to their nighttime “skywave” signals (the signals heard hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles from the station’s transmitter site after bouncing off the atmosphere). These protections allow these stations to cover large geographic areas, and were particularly important in the early days of radio when these stations provided the only radio services to vast portions of the country that did not have local radio stations. In the Further Notice released last week, the FCC questions whether such protections are still necessary given the proliferation of other sources of audio programming (including radio stations, satellite radio and the Internet), and advances specific proposals that would reduce the protections accorded to these stations to allow some power increases by local AM stations.

This proposal is not without controversy. Obviously, station owners who hold Class A licenses do not believe that the service provided by these stations should be impeded. In fact, they note that many of these stations are among the few profitable AM stations in the country, often providing unique programming and substantial programming diversity to rural residents. These stations have also always been a favorite of long-haul truckers and others driving at night for providing uninterrupted service over vast distances. Perhaps even more importantly, and a question specifically raised for comment by the FCC, is the impact that any loss of service from these stations would have on the EAS network. Many of these stations serve as the primary stations for relaying national emergency messages to the EAS network. In fact, many of these stations have been provided funds by FEMA to improve their facilities to insure that they are available to provide uninterrupted service in the event of a national emergency.
Continue Reading FCC Proposes Lessened Interference Protections for Class A “Clear Channel” AM Stations – What Does This Proposal Mean for AM Revitalization?

Only three weeks ago, we wrote about an application for experimental authority filed by an AM station operator in Arizona, seeking permission to cease operating its AM station for a one year test to operate solely with its paired FM translator. We suggested that this proposal portended much for the AM band. However, the

The broadcast trade press was abuzz this morning with a report that an Arizona AM station currently simulcasting its programming on an FM translator has asked the FCC for permission to conduct a test where it would shut down its AM for about a year and operate solely through the FM translator. To grant this request, the FCC would need to waive its rule (Section 74.1263(b)) which prohibits an FM translator station from operating during extended periods when the primary station is not being retransmitted.

This idea of turning in an AM station to operate with a paired FM translator (though, in this case, the licensee promises to return the AM to the air within a year) is not a new one and has in fact been advanced in the AM Revitalization proceeding. The proposal offers pros and cons that the FCC will no doubt weigh in evaluating this proposal, and also raises many questions about the future of the AM band.
Continue Reading AM Station Proposes to Test Silencing AM to Operate 100% From a Translator – What Does It Say About the AM Band?

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice providing the details for its settlement window for mutually exclusive applications for new FM translators to rebroadcast AM stations. The settlement window will run through November 29. The mutually-exclusive applications (applications which conflict with each other as they cannot both operate without creating prohibited interference) are listed on an appendix available here. These applications were the ones filed earlier this summer in the FCC’s first window reserved for AM station licensees to file for new FM translators to rebroadcast their AM stations as part of the FCC’s AM revitalization proceeding. The first window was for Class C and D AM stations to submit applications. Class A and B AMs, which generally have greater coverage areas, will be able to file applications in a window to open either later this year or, at this point, more likely in early 2018. The majority of applications filed in this year’s window, which are not listed on the appendix of mutually exclusive applications and which did not receive a letter from the FCC in the last few weeks identifying deficiencies in their short-form applications, are likely “singletons,” meaning that these applications are not in conflict with any other and will likely be asked to file a “long-form” application completing the FCC Form 349 before being proposed for grant at some point later this year or early next year.

As we have written, as these applications were filed in the context of a potential auction, applicants cannot talk to each other except during announced settlement windows. Now that the settlement window has been announced, mutually exclusive applicants can discuss trying to resolve the mutual exclusivity either through technical means or by the dismissal of one of the applications. Technical means could include any “minor change” in the facilities initially proposed by one or both of the mutually-exclusive applicants, e.g. frequency moves to adjacent channels, transmitter site changes, or directional antenna proposals. Dismissal of applications can only be for the reimbursement of a dismissing applicant’s legitimate expenses – the dismissing applicant cannot be paid big bucks to dismiss its application. More details of the settlement process are set out in the Public Notice, but note that the deadline for the submission of any resolution to the FCC is November 29.
Continue Reading List of Mutually Exclusive Applications for FM Translators to Rebroadcast AM Stations Released By FCC – Settlement Window Through November 29

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spoke on Wednesday at the opening lunch at the NAB Radio Show in Austin, promising more moves to bring media regulation in line with the realities of the modern media marketplace. In his speech, the text of which is available here, the Chairman promised several actions including the following:

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Prometheus Radio Project, an advocacy group which has been active in lobbying for the interests of LPFM applicants and licensees, has asked that the FCC stay the April 10 effective date of the new rules liberalizing the location in which FM translators serving AM stations can locate (see its petition here). We wrote about those new rules here and here. Prometheus alleges that the liberalization in the rules will restrict the areas in which LPFM stations can locate their transmitter sites if the sites from which they currently operate become unusable. Their allegation is that the moves by these translators will “box in” LPFM stations at their current site. Based on this alleged harm, Prometheus asks for a stay of the effective date of the new rule while they appeal its adoption.

The petition does not say how this phenomena of “boxing in” LPFM stations will occur simply because translators can be located at distances greater than currently authorized. The new rules do not authorize new FM translators, and (contrary to some broadcast trade press reports published today) they do not give broadcasters another opportunity to move translators great distances from their current locations. All they do is change the rules so that, instead of limiting FM translators to the areas where their 1 mv/m contour does not extend beyond the lesser of the AM station’s 2 mv/m contour or a circle 25 miles from the AM station, the translator can operate in any area where its contour does not extend the 1 mv/m beyond the greater of the 2 mv/m contour or 25 mile circle. The new rules do not increase the permitted power of translators or in any other way significantly change their preclusive effect. In short, who is to say whether a translator will impose greater restrictions on LPFMs from their current locations or from locations authorized under the new rules?
Continue Reading Request Filed with the FCC to Stay Effective Date of New Liberalized Rules on the Location of FM Translators for AM Stations

After months of speculation, Chairman Wheeler today announced that he will step down from the FCC on Inauguration Day. Together with the Senate not confirming the renomination of Commissioner Rosenworcel (as the Senate is effectively on recess and not expected to return before the end of the term, her renomination will almost certainly not be approved in this session of Congress, meaning that she must step down when the Congress adjourns on January 3), that leaves three Commissioners on the FCC. Two are the current Republican commissioners – Pai and O’Rielly – and Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. What will that mean for broadcasters?

First, it is expected that one of the two Republicans will be named as Acting Chairman to set the agenda for the first few months of the Trump administration, until a permanent Chair is announced (and confirmed by the Senate, if that Chair is not one of the two current Republicans). These commissioners have been vocal in their dissents on several big issues for broadcasters – including the repeal of the UHF discount (about which we wrote earlier this week) and on other issues dealing with the ownership of television stations – including the decision to not repeal the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, and the decision to reinstate the FCC’s ban on Joint Sales Agreements in TV unless they are done between stations that can be co-owned. We already speculated about these issues being on the Republican agenda soon after the election. What other issues are likely to be considered?
Continue Reading And Then There Were Three – Chairman Wheeler to Step Down on Inauguration Day Leaving a Republican-Controlled FCC – What’s It Mean for Broadcasters?