available new FM channels

May is somewhat lighter on broadcast regulatory dates and deadlines than some recent months, but there are still dates to note.  Among other things, the FCC will begin the process of auctioning 140 construction permits for new AM and FM radio stations across the country.  Also, broadcasters in several states, with an eye on the June 1 deadline, should be preparing now to file applications for license renewal or to prepare and upload to their public inspection file EEO public file reports, demonstrating their compliance with the FCC’s equal employment opportunity requirements.  So let’s take a look at some of the important dates for May (and early June).  As always, be sure to consult with your communications counsel on the dates and deadlines applicable to your operation.

The Auction 109 window for “short-form” applications to participate in the auction of 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits began at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 28 and will close at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on May 11.  By that deadline, interested parties must file with the FCC their short-form applications (FCC Form 175) setting out information including their ownership and the channels on which they are interested in bidding.    The auction is scheduled to begin on July 27.  A freeze on the filing of FM minor modification applications remains in effect until the end of the auction filing window.  This freeze was imposed to ensure that Commission staff and auction bidders have a stable database to work with during the auction.  Read more about the auction and freeze, here and here.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates: Auction Applications for AM and FM Construction Permits for New Radio Stations, New DTS Rules, License Renewals and More

At the end of last week, the FCC released several orders clarifying the rules for upcoming windows where construction permits for new FM channels will be made available to parties interested in starting new radio stations, and a few AM construction permits will also be auctioned off.  The Public Notice released on Thursday for commercial operators set the important filing dates and procedural rules for the July auction of 136 FM permits, as well as 4 AM permits in the St. Louis area that are available after an AM licensee whose license was challenged at renewal time surrendered the licenses for these AM stations (see the list of available channels here).  The FCC also issued a Public Notice setting a freeze on changes to other FM stations during the initial filing window, to stabilize the FCC’s database for parties interested in these new FM channels.  Also on Thursday, the FCC issued a draft order on the number of applications for which applicants will be able to apply in an upcoming reserved-band FM (channels below 92 on the FM band) filing window for noncommercial educational stations (NCE stations).

First, let’s look at the noncommercial draft order that is expected to be adopted at the FCC’s regular monthly Open Meeting on April 22 unless changes are made between now and then.  That order, about which we wrote here, asked whether the FCC should adopt a limit of 10 applications in the upcoming window for new noncommercial FMs or for major changes in existing stations.  While there were parties that requested that the limit be higher (particularly in rural areas where the likely demand will not be as great), and other parties expressed a belief that the limit should be lower (particularly as there will be few open channels in larger markets), the draft order suggests that the FCC will stick with the limit of 10 applications.  The FCC’s intent in adopting an application cap is to reduce processing backlogs and limit the number of situations where applicants will file applications that are mutually exclusive (i.e. where both cannot be granted without creating prohibited interference), while still allowing applicants to provide new noncommercial services throughout the country.  According to the draft order, the 10-application limit used in previous NCE windows still makes sense as a happy medium between the competing desires for expanded or narrower limits.
Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Upcoming Windows for Construction Permits for New Commercial and Noncommercial FM Stations (and a Few AMs Too)

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • FCC fines against two radio stations serve as a reminder that station managers need to pay close attention

With the holiday season getting smaller in the rear-view mirror and many parts of the country dealing with ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures, broadcasters could be forgiven for dreaming about the sunshine and warmth that come with spring.  Before spring arrives, however, broadcasters need to tend to important regulatory matters in February.  And, if you find yourself eager to plan past February, use our 2020 Broadcasters’ Calendar as a reference tool for tracking regulatory dates through the end of 2020.

But focusing on the month ahead, by February 3, all AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi must file their license renewal applications.  For the full-power stations in the state, there’s an additional EEO task to complete irrespective of how many employees a station employment unit (SEU) has.  Before filing for license renewal, stations in these three states must submit FCC Schedule 396. This schedule is the Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report, which is a reporting to the FCC of the SEU’s equal employment opportunity activities for the last license period (SEUs with fewer than five full-time employees are not required to maintain an EEO recruitment program and are only required to check a box that they have fewer than 5 full-time employees and skip ahead to the certification).  The sequencing here is important: When filing for license renewal, the application (Schedule 303-S) asks for the file number of your already-filed Schedule 396.  So, without having already filed the schedule, you won’t be able to complete your renewal application.
Continue Reading February Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters—License Renewals, EEO Reporting, Rulemaking Comments, FM Auction Filing Deadline, Lowest Unit Rate Windows, and More

On Friday, the FCC released a Public Notice setting out the rules for the auction for new FM channels, which will being in April. We wrote about that auction when it was first announced here. The Public Notice sets out the bidding process for the auction, and the dates for pre-auction filing deadlines necessary to participate in the auction. The notice also rejects several petitions asking that additional channels be added to the auction and one request for a deletion from the auction list. Thus, the channels to be sold in the auction remain the same as originally proposed. A list of the 130 available FM construction permits, with the minimum bid necessary for each of these channels, is available here.

The Public Notice sets out the following pre-auction dates and deadlines that those planning to participate in the auction must observe. These dates are as follows:

  • Auction Tutorial Available (via Internet) by January 22, 2020
  • Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175) Filing Window Opens January 29, 2020, 12:00 noon Eastern Time (ET)
  • Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175) Filing Window Deadline February 11, 2020, 6:00 p.m. ET
  • Upfront Payments (via wire transfer) March 20, 2020, 6:00 p.m. ET
  • Mock Auction April 24, 2020
  • Auction Bidding Begins April 28, 2020

The “short-form” is an application that anyone wishing to participate in the auction must file. This short-form application sets out the channels in which the applicant is interested and some basic information about the applicant. Specific site locations that an applicant wants to protect can also be listed in the short form. Upfront payments are required monetary deposits that must be made by auction participants in amounts sufficient to cover the minimum fees for the channels on which the applicant is interested in bidding. More details on the information required in the forms, and the mechanics of the auction, are set out in the Public Notice which should be carefully reviewed by parties interested in any of these construction permits authorizing the new stations. 
Continue Reading FCC Announces Deadlines for the Next Auction for New FM Channels – And a Filing Freeze

It has been many years since the FCC conducted an auction of new FM channels, principally due to its preoccupation with the TV incentive auction. But that is about to change as the FCC announced yesterday that it is planning a new FM auction starting on April 28, 2020, and issued a request for comment on the procedures to be used for the auction. The FCC is taking comment on the proposed auction procedures through November 6, with reply comments due by November 20. 130 vacant channels will be available for bid. The list of vacant channels is available here. Channels will be available across the country, with Texas and Wyoming having the most vacant channels in this auction list.

Working backward from the anticipated April 28 start date and using prior auctions as a guide, initial filings for the channels would likely be due early in the new year. “Upfront” payments equal to or greater than the minimum payments for the channels that an applicant ultimately wins in the auction will probably be due a month or so before the start of the auction. To protect the allotments during an auction, the FCC typically imposes a freeze on the filing of FM modification applications. So be on the alert for an announcement of such a freeze. (Addendum, 10/14/2019 – the Freeze was imposed on Friday – see our post here for details).
Continue Reading FCC Plans Auction in April for the Rights to Build New FM Stations

It has been over two years since the last window allowing applicants to file for new FM stations (see our article here). There had been some speculation that the number of requests for new allotments was decreasing, leaving the FCC with few FM channels to auction off and thereby breaking what had been an almost yearly start of a new FCC auction for new FM channels. But, yesterday, the FCC released an Order noting numerous vacant FM channels, though this time they are not newly allotted channels, but instead ones that had previously been awarded to applicants who either did not pay the amount they bid in the auction, or who received a CP and then did not construct the station. Even included on this list is the FM channel of the station that had its license designated for hearing as the station had been silent for almost its entire renewal term (see our article here), a hearing that never had to happen as the licensee surrendered its license rather than trying to litigate over whether its renewal should be granted.

Of course, many of these channels may have some inherent issues leading those who initially sought them not to construct. The issues could be location specific (e.g. no readily available transmitter sites for a price that made construction feasible) or there could be issues with the applicant not being able to fulfill its initial plans. Interested parties should do their investigation. When will the channels be available?
Continue Reading Looking for a New FM? – FCC Releases a Potential “Shopping List” of Channels that Will Be Available in a Future Auction

Another month is upon us, with the typical list of FCC dates of importance – and some new issues (including incentive auction developments that will probably be a regular part of our news through a good part of next year). One date of importance to some TV broadcasters was yesterday – July 1 – when TV stations affiliated with one of the Big Four TV networks and located in the Top 60 TV markets need to be carrying at least 50 hours of prime time or children’s programming each quarter containing video description. While most of this programming will come from the networks themselves, affiliates in these markets should be now be passing through enough of this video-described programming to meet the quarterly minimums.

July 10 brings other routine filing deadlines. For all broadcasters, by July 10 you should have in your public file (the online public file for TV stations) your Quarterly Issues Programs lists describing the most important issues that faced your community in the prior quarter and the programming that you broadcast to address those issues. Also due to be filed at the FCC by July 10 is your station’s Children’s Television Programming Report on Form 398 describing the programming broadcast on your station to serve the educational and informational needs of children. In addition, TV stations need to place in their online public file information showing compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming and, for Class A stations, documentation showing continued eligibility for Class A status. For other dates of importance to broadcasters, see our Broadcaster Regulatory Calendar, here.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Children’s Television Reports, Incentive Auction Actions, CRB Webcasting Closing Argument and More

May is one of those months where there are no routine, recurring FCC regulatory filing deadlines – no EEO reports or Quarterly Issues Programs lists, no Children’s Television Programming Reports or noncommercial station ownership report deadlines. But, as with any month, that does not mean that there are no dates of concern for broadcasters – as there are certain compliance deadlines and other important dates of which broadcasters need to be aware in the upcoming month. Here is our summary of some of the dates that broadcasters should be watching in the upcoming month.

The only thing approaching a routine regulatory date of note is the obligation of TV stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania to air the third and fourth of their required six post-filing announcements of the filing of their renewal applications – the last of the renewal applications for either radio or TV that were filed in this renewal cycle. The next routine license renewal filing window will be when radio renewals being again in June of 2019 – with the filing of radio license renewals by stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and DC. However, as we have written before, EEO Mid-Term reports are due from larger radio station groups in these 3 states and in DC on June 1 of this year. So radio station employment units (commonly controlled station groups serving the same area and having at least one common employee) with 11 or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees should be preparing to file those reports on FCC Form 397 by June 1.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Including EEO Mid-Term Reports, FM Auction, Emergency Communications Compliance, TV Market Modification Comments, Class A TV Digital Conversion Deadline and More

The FCC has finalized the rules for its auction for about 130 new FM channels to be auctioned in July. The Order setting the rules for the auction is available here, and the list of channels to be sold, and the opening minimum bid for each such channel, is available here. The minimum bids also constitute the “upfront payments” which must be made before the auction in order to be able to bid on the channels in which you may be interested. We wrote about these channels here, when the FCC first proposed the auction. As can be seen by reviewing the list, while there are channels across the country, the greatest number of available channels, by far, is in Texas. As we noted when we first wrote about this auction, many of the channels cover small communities in rural areas, and some are leftovers that went unsold in previous auctions. But in every auction there are a few channels that may prove to have some value, so we expect that there will again be interest in many of those on the list. Such interest must be expressed through the filing of “short-form” Form 175 applications by May 28. The actual auction will begin on July 23.

The FCC also announced a freeze on the filing of FM construction permit applications for changes in existing stations from May 18 through May 28 to stabilize the FCC’s engineering database during the period when applicants will be filing their applications. As auction applicants can specify in their short-form applications transmitter sites to be protected, a minor change application by an existing station could end up mutually exclusive with a transmitter site specified by an auction applicant, meaning that the existing station could end up in the auction. To avoid that, the FCC has frozen minor change applications during the filing window.
Continue Reading FCC Sets Final Rules For Auction of New FM Stations – Applications Due By May 28, Filing Freeze on FM Minor Changes from May 18 through May 28