On Friday, the FCC finally took action in its long-awaited AM revitalization rulemaking proceeding.  Friday’s order came in three parts – one adopting certain changes to FCC technical FCC rules and also adopting procedures for AM stations to acquire FM translators, a second asking for comment on a series of additional proposals looking to further change certain AM rules, and a final section a more preliminary inquiry looking at longer term policy changes to the AM rules.  While not providing everything some AM proponents may have wished for, the order does promise some immediate help for AM stations – including steps to, in the short-term, bring FM translators to many of the AM stations that feel these translators are necessary for their continued survival.  Today, we’ll look at that aspect of the order – the proposals to make available FM translators to help AM stations.

As we have written (see our articles here and here), there was a major controversy at the FCC about whether or not to open a window, restricted to AM licensees, letting them file for new FM translators, or to instead provide a process where AM stations would need to buy existing translators to provide FM service for their stations.  In Friday’s order, the FCC promised both.  Initially, in 2016, it will open a two-part window during which it will waive its minor change rules so as to allow AM licensees to buy an FM translator authorization, and “move” that translator up to 250 miles from its present location, to its AM market to operate on any available FM channel in that market.  Later in 2017, it will open a more traditional window for any AM that was not able to acquire a translator in 2016 where that AM will be able to file an application for a new FM translator. There are many details associated with each of these windows.
Continue Reading FCC Adopts AM Revitalization Order – Part 1 – The Upcoming Windows for AM Stations to Acquire FM Translators

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

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?