In 2011, licensees of FM translators who wanted to move those translators to areas where there was a need for their service thought that the FCC had done a great thing by authorizing the use of the “Mattoon” waiver (see our article here).  The Mattoon waiver allowed the processing of an FCC application to move the location of a translator as a minor change (meaning that it could be filed at any time, rather than having to wait for a window for the filing of major changes and new translator applications – the last of which opened in 2003) if the current and proposed interfering and protected contours of the stations overlapped.  Without the waiver, the rules deem a minor change to occur only when the protected 60 dbu contour of the station from the proposed and exiting sites overlap, allowing much smaller moves. But, as we have written before, the FCC now seems to be backing off the use of these waivers, and two recent decisions raise the question of whether the policy is doomed (as the Commission proposed in its AM improvement proposals, which we summarized here).

The use of the waiver in many cases eliminated the need for multiple “hops” of translators to get them from existing locations to the sites at which a broadcaster wanted to use them to provide service.  These hops would move the translator from the locations at which it was licensed to a new site, only to file another application as soon as the initial move was granted to move the translator yet again to get them to the location where a broadcaster wanted to use them to provide service.  In some cases, multiple intermediate hops were necessary to move the translator to the site at which its use was ultimately desired.  The Mattoon waiver allowed many site moves to be accomplished through a single application rather than requiring multiple hops, each of which cost the broadcaster time and money in filing multiple applications and in actually building the translator at multiple sites, and also saved the FCC the time and effort to process each of the applications necessary to approve these intermediate stops for the translator. 
Continue Reading The End of the Mattoon Waiver? – FCC Decisions Confirming Its Use Only for the Rebroadcast of AM Stations and Prohibiting Intermediate Site Changes

In a case that has been watched by many AM licensees and debated at a number of broadcast conferences in the last few years, the FCC on Friday denied the “Tell City waiver,” by which the licensee of an AM station in Indiana sought to buy an FM translator in Kentucky and move it to Indiana, on a non-adjacent channel, and use it to rebroadcast their AM station.  This sought to expand the “Mattoon waiver” (about which we have written many times including articles here and here) which effectively changed the definition of a “minor change” for an FM translator that could be approved in a single application, without waiting for any sort of translator filing window. 

The current rules define a minor change as one where the translator’s 1 mv/m service contour at both the current and proposed sites overlap.  The Mattoon waiver treated applications as minor changes where the service contours did not overlap – as long as the interfering contour of the translator at one site overlapped with the protected contour of the station at the other site – essentially meaning that a translator could not exist at both the current and proposed sites without prohibited interference.  The Tell City waiver would have eliminated even that connection between the present and proposed sites for the translator – allowing essentially a move of any FM translator from one place to another, and from one frequency to another, regardless of whether the new location had any connection with the original site.  That attempt to stretch the definition of a minor change led the Commission’s Media Bureau to deny the request.
Continue Reading FCC Denies “Tell City Waiver” to Move Translator to Distant Non-Adjacent Channel to Rebroadcast AM Station

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.
Continue Reading New Conditions on Mattoon Waivers for FM Translators Used for AM Stations – Mandatory Rebroadcast of AM on the Translator for 4 Years

It is the beginning of another year – and a time to look ahead to look ahead at what broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year.  With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington’s alphabet soup of regulatory agencies in the near future.  In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

Each January, we publish a list of issues for the coming year, and it is not always the case that these issues make it to the top of various piles (literal or figurative) that sit in various offices at the FCC.  As set forth below, there are a number of FCC proceedings that remain open, and could be resolved this year.  But just as often, a good number of these issues sit unresolved to be included, once again, on our list of issues for next year.  While some issues are almost guaranteed to be considered, others are a crap shoot as to whether they will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items. So this list should not be seen as a definitive list of what will be considered by the FCC this year, but instead as an alert as to what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.
Continue Reading What’s Up in Washington For Broadcasters in 2014? — Part 1, FCC Issues

There have been many Washington developments for broadcasters in the last week – and while it was all occurring, our Blog was undergoing a makeover, so some of the articles that we published in the last week may have been missed.  Perhaps the biggest news was the confirmation and swearing in of the new FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler.  Last week, we wrote this article setting out the many legal issues of relevance to broadcasters that will be facing the new Chair.  Among the first issues that will be dealt with is the modification of the FCC’s limits on the foreign ownership of broadcast stations, which is scheduled for consideration by the FCC at their open meeting next Thursday.  We wrote about the issues in that proceeding here.

One of the last issues considered by Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn was the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the revitalization of the AM radio band.  We summarized the issues set out in that proceeding, and wrote in more detail about the proposal likely to have the biggest impact on AM broadcasters – a window for AM stations to seek FM translators.  That article also discussed how the FCC has seemingly decided to pull back from Mattoon waivers as part of that proceeding, and in a separate decision where the FCC decided that Mattoon waivers could not be used if the primary station is an FM.  We’ll write more about the rest of the AM revitalization proposals soon.  And, related to translators, we wrote about the extension of the last day for filing applications in the LPFM filing window to next week. 

As last week was Halloween, and also the 75th Anniversary of the broadcast of Orson Welles War of the Worlds, we wrote about the changing views on broadcast hoaxes, and what the FCC would do if the program was broadcast today.  Speaking of emergency broadcasts, the FCC yesterday issued a number of notices on fake emergency broadcasts.  We’ll write more about that issue shortly.
Continue Reading While Our Blog Was Getting A Makeover, Did You See Our Stories on the New FCC Chairman, Foreign Ownership of Broadcast Stations, AM Revitalization, Orson Welles and the Hoax Rule and More?

The FCC’s proposals for aiding AM radio have been released in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – one of the last actions for broadcasters under Acting FCC Chairman Mignon Clyburn (see our article here on the leftover broadcast issues with which her successor as chairman, Tom Wheeler, will have to deal).  The proposals for revitalizing the AM band that were contained in the NPRM are all ones that the Acting Chair had previewed at the NAB Radio Show, which we summarized in our article about that speech.  While the general proposals that were made in the NPRM were not surprising, in most of these areas there were a couple of surprises in the details – some of which will may be of concern to some broadcasters.

The Commission made several proposals, including the following:

  • A special FM translator window where applications would be restricted to AM licensees.
  • Reduction of both daytime and nighttime city-grade coverage obligations of existing AM stations.
  • Elimination of the ratchet rule that requires that any AM station making facilities changes do so in a way that reduces overall interference in the AM band (in many cases compelling a reduction of service if a change is proposed)
  • The potential for more liberal use of MDCL technologies, which decrease transmitter power when modulation of the station decrease, potentially saving power (though raising some questions about the robustness of the signal that will result)
  • The modification of AM efficiency standards in some way to allow for shorter towers that could be located on rooftops or in other more limited spaces – though the Commission asked for more comments on how its current rules actually limited such uses
  • A general request for other ideas that could help AM stations.

We will cover the special translator window in today’s post, and cover the other issues in more detail in the future.  Most of the other proposals deal with making facilities changes to the AM station, in some cases changes that might actually decrease service to their current service areas (e.g. were some stations to take advantage of the proposed city-coverage limitation to move further from the station’s city of license).  The translator proposal is the one most likely to bring the most relief to the most AM broadcasters in the heart of their service area – and is one that can be quickly implemented.  So below, we will look at the translator proposal in more detail. 
Continue Reading FCC Proposals For AM Improvements – Part 1 – A Restricted FM Translator Window and an End to the Mattoon Waiver?