FM Translators and LPFM

The processing of the FM translator applications left over from the 2003 translator window marches on. The FCC today announced the window for long form applications for all the translator applications that are no longer mutually exclusive with other applicants. The FCC has asked for long-form applications for these 1239 applications (filed on Form 349 and providing more detailed legal and technical information about the applicant and its proposed operation) to be filed by August 30. The FCC Public Notice about this filing deadline is here. The list of applications that are identified as singletons are here.

Many of these applications are those that filed technical amendments in the recent settlement window eliminating mutual exclusivity with other applications. There are 1239 such applications that could be granted as a result of this action, on top of the applications already identified as "singletons" before the settlement window (see our article here), and perhaps others still subject to FCC processing. The remaining applications, who were not able to resolve mutual exclusivity with other applicants, will end up in an auction at some point in the future. 

In the long-forms, the applicant may make minor changes to its technical facilities that were specified in the tech box on the original application. However, these changes, if made in a market that the FCC deemed spectrum-limited for purposes of LPFM availability, must contain a "preclusion study" showing that they will not impact LPFM opportunities in their markets. Any changes are also secondary to any application filed in the upcoming LPFM window.


Continue Reading Over 1000 New FM Translators Almost Ready for Grant – Long Form Applications Due August 30, Changes Secondary to LPFM Applicants

Sometimes, even though you have FCC authority for your operations, you can still run into issues that can cause you to have that authority pulled out from under your operations. In three cases decided this week, the FCC’s Audio Division interpreted a number of its procedural rules – in two cases leading to the cancellation of FM translator licenses and the silencing of operating translator stations. In one case, the FCC decided that a licensed and operating FM translator had been licensed in error, as it actually created interference to an existing full-power FM station in a populated area, even though the translator application had initially claimed that it would not. In the second case, a translator was forced to cease operations because of interference from a new full-power station. When it did not resume operations within a one-year period, the FCC found that its license was automatically forfeited because of the year’s silence – even though the station had resumed operations in the construction period specified in a construction permit authorizing the translator to operate on a new frequency. These cases make clear how important the FCC’s procedural rules can be – actually leading to what are effectively life or death decisions for the license of a broadcast station.

In the first case, a translator licensee had a construction permit application granted to move to a new transmitter site. After the permit was granted, the licensee of a full-power station filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the grant, arguing that the translator would in fact create interference in populated areas served by its station. Despite the protest, the permittee constructed the translator at the new site, started operations and filed a license to cover the new construction – which was granted by the FCC. In reviewing the evidence filed by the petitioner, the FCC determined that there would in fact be interference caused to the full-power station in inhabited areas, contrary to what had been claimed in the translator’s CP application.  Based on that finding, the FCC revoked the license and underlying CP for the translator. The FCC made clear that a permittee who constructs a station when there is an objection to the underlying CP does so at its own risk. Where, as here, the underlying objection is found to have merit, the mere fact that the permittee had the right to build the station does not give him any grounds to argue that the station should be permitted to continue to operate – rejecting claims by the translator operator that, as there were no complaints of real interference caused by its operation, it should be permitted to continue to operate. Where the translator had prohibited contour overlap with the protected full-power station, and where it was shown that the area in which that overlap occurred was populated (shown by a USGS Topographic map that showed structures in the area), the operation was not permitted to continue.


Continue Reading FCC Decisions Lead to Cancellation of Two FM Translator Licenses and Silencing of Operating Stations – Interference Issues and Time Limits on Being Off Air to Blame

Low Power FM potential applicants, start your engines. The FCC has announced the long-awaited window for the filing of applications for new LPFM stations. The window will last from October 15-October 29. During this period, nonprofit organizations and governmental organizations will have the opportunity to file for new stations on any FM channel anywhere in the country – as long as they don’t interfere with existing FM or FM translator stations (or channel 6 TV stations which operate on a channel adjacent to the FM band). The FCC has done a great job in processing the remainder of the applications from the 2003 FM translator window, announcing a settlement window for applicants in that proceeding that is open through July 22, to be followed by an auction. Substantially completing the processing of those translator applications has cleared the way for the upcoming LPFM window. 

Two FCC Commissioners issued statements hailing the upcoming window and the opportunities that it will present for encouraging more diversity in the media marketplace (see statements of Acting FCC Chair Clyburn and Commissioner Pai). A number of groups that have actively championed LPFM also applauded the opening of the window, some trumpeting plans for workshops across the country to help people prepare for the filing opportunities. We hope that expectations are not being unduly raised. Particularly in larger markets, as the FCC itself has recognized, there will be only very limited opportunities for LPFM applicants, as there is very limited spectrum in those markets not already occupied by FM stations or close enough to existing stations to create interference. As the LPFM rules require that new stations protect existing FM stations from interference on co-channels and first and second adjacent channels, in large markets, there will be little room for new LPFM stations.  Groups thinking about opportunities in those markets need to be prepared to face competition for the few channels that may be available and to be realistic – as there will be many places where no channels will be available to serve a particular part of a metropolitan area.


Continue Reading As FM Translator Settlement Window Continues, the FCC Announces LPFM Window in October – Factors for an LPFM Applicant to Consider

As is the case with most months, June brings a number of FCC deadlines for broadcasters, both standard regulatory filings and comment deadlines in important regulatory proceedings. The regular filing deadlines include license renewal applications due on June 3 (as June 1 is a Saturday) for Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations, TV Translators, and LPTV Stations in Ohio and Michigan; and Commercial and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations, FM Translators, and LPFM Stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada. Noncommercial stations in the states with renewals also have to file their Biennial Ownership Reports, as do noncommercial radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Renewal pre-filing announcements must begin on June 1 for Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations in Illinois and Wisconsin and for Commercial and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in California. Post-filing announcements for radio stations in Texas should continue on June 1 and 16, as well as for TV stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In addition to these regular filings, broadcasters also have many other deadlines that are coming up either in the month, or soon thereafter. Broadcasters who were successful bidders in the recent FM auction have payment deadlines on June 12, and then have a July 24 deadline for the filing of "long-form" applications on FCC Form 301 specifying the technical facilities that they plan to build (see the FCC Public Notice here). Applicants for new FM translators left over from the 2003 filing window are now in a settlement window, with deadlines for settlements between competing applicants due on July 22 (see the FCC public notice here). 


Continue Reading June FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, FM Translator and Auction Filings, and Comments on Regulatory Fees, Indecency, and Incentive Auction Band Plan

At the NAB Radio Show in Dallas in September, FCC Commissioner Pai promised that the FCC would take action to revitalize the AM band (see our story here). For years, AM has suffered a gradual erosion in listening, as interference on the band has increased – not necessarily from other AM stations, but instead from background noise that is now part of the environment in most urban areas. This interference is caused by everything from fluorescent lights to plasma TV screens to various other electronic devices that are prevalent in the modern world. At the NAB Show in Las Vegas the week before last, Commissioner Pai reprised his discussion of AM improvements, this time moderating a panel of experts to discuss the potential remedies to the problems faced by the AM radio service. So just what remedies may be possible?

The panel set out several possible solutions to AM interference issues, all of which have potential downsides or problems. These include the following:

  • — More FM translators for AM stations
  • — Blanket power increases for all AM stations
  • — A reduction in skywave protection
  • — The adoption of a cellular architecture for AM stations
  • — All-digital operation for AM stations

Let’s look at each of these options below.


Continue Reading Saving AM Radio – What is the FCC Considering?

Another radio topic sure to be discussed at the NAB convention this week is the ongoing story of the thousands of FM applications translators still pending at the FCC from the 2003 FM translator window. While this has been a topic at many of the NAB Conventions in the last 10 years, it looks like the end is near. On Tuesday, the FCC adopted yet another order in the processing of these translators, allowing applicants who specified that they were noncommercial operators to amend their applications in a window from April 8 to April 17 to specify commercial operations. That is important to such applicants as, soon after these applications were filed back in 2003, the FCC adopted a policy that said that applicants who elect noncommercial processing could not participate in an auction – and that they would be dismissed if they were mutually exclusive with commercial applicants. Not allowing these applicants the opportunity to amend (as the FCC has done in several other auctions from this period), would mean that the applicants would be dismissed for a defect that had not been announced at the time of their filing.

This is but one more step in the ongoing attempts to complete the processing of these applications so as to permit a new LPFM window later in the year. This will probably mean that thousands of new FM translators will be granted in the coming months – providing opportunities for the expansion of broadcasters’ signals, either in the traditional way of filling in holes in the coverage of FM broadcast stations, or by allowing for the retransmission of AM and FM-HD signals. This should prompt many discussions at the NAB Convention as broadcasters look at the opportunities that these new translator stations will present.


Continue Reading FCC Processing of Translator Applications from 2003 Moves Ahead – Window for Opting Out of Noncommercial Status to Participate in the Auction

April is one of those months in which many FCC obligations are triggered for broadcasters. There are the normal obligations, like the Quarterly Issues Programs lists, that need to be in the public file of all broadcast stations, radio and TV, commercial and noncommercial, by April 10. Quarterly Children’s television reports are due to be submitted by TV stations. And there are renewal obligations for stations in many states, as well as EEO Public File Reports that are due to be placed in station’s public files and on their websites. The end of March also brings the obligation for television broadcasters to start captioning live and near-live programming that is captioned on air, and then rebroadcast on the Internet. Finally, there are comment deadlines on the FCC’s proposal to relax the foreign ownership limits, and an FM auction and continuing FM translator filing requirements.

Radio stations in Texas and television stations in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana have renewal applications due on April 1. The license renewal pre-filing broadcast announcements for radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and for TV stations in Michigan and Ohio, must begin on April 1. All of these stations will be filing their renewals by June 1. EEO Annual Public file reports for all stations (radio and TV) with five or more full-time employees, which are located in Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Delaware, Pennsylvania or Indiana, must be placed in their public files (which are now online for TV broadcasters) by April 1.   Noncommercial radio stations in Texas, and noncommercial TV stations in Tennessee, Indiana Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky must also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 1


Continue Reading April FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, Captioning of Live or Near-Live Online Programming, FM Translator Filings, an FM Auction and Comments on Alien Ownership

The next step in processing of the translators from the 2003 FM translator window is now upon us.  The FCC has asked for major market translator applications – those in the "Appendix A markets" (essentially the top 150 Arbitron markets and a few additional ones in which numerous translator applications were filed) and

Many of the thousands of FM translators that have been pending since 2003 may be approaching the finish line to be granted very soon. The FCC has issued a Public Notice announcing that over 700 applications are now ready to be granted. The applications that are identified on the list are "singletons", or applications that are not mutually exclusive with any other application.  Applicants who find their applications on the list need only file a "long-form" application on FCC Form 349 by March 28. A long form application provides full technical information about the applicant’s proposal, as well as some ownership information about the applicant. FCC officials have stated that, as long as the long-form application does not change the technical proposals set forth in the short-form applications submitted in 2003, the long form should be granted. Instructions for additional showings that need to be made if changes are made are available here

So what’s next for the 2003 applicants, and what opportunities are there for other radio broadcasters? The clear opportunity for broadcasters is that there are soon going to be about 700 new translators, with many more to come after the settlement window and auction. All of these applications were filed 10 years ago, some of them by parties whose interests may well have changed in that prolonged period of waiting. So there are bound to be at least some translators that will be granted and available for sale or some sort of programming arrangement. Once these 700 translators applications and the other applications from the 2003 window are processed, there will be no other new translators that are possible until the next time the FCC opens a translator filing window – which won’t happen for at least a year (and quite possibly well after that), until after the FCC first holds the promised LPFM window later this year (with an October target date) and processes the applications from that window. So now is the time for broadcasters to be reviewing the translator applications that are being granted from the 2003 window to see if there may be opportunities for the broadcaster to find a facility to retransmit an AM station or an HD-2 signal. 


Continue Reading FM Translator Processing Continues as FCC identifies Over 700 Applications that Can Be Granted – What’s Next for Translator Applicants? What Should Broadcasters Be Considering?

The FCC last week issued a Public Notice announcing the dismissal of approximately 3000 FM translator applications. This was as a result of its requirement that applicants from the 2003 FM Translator Window select no more than 70 total applications to prosecute (see our articles here and here), and no more than 3 in any