AM Stations Already Squeezing onto the FM Dial?

As I reported on the Aug. 17 radioshow, the FCC is considering a rulemaking that would allow AM radio stations to have translator stations on the FM dial. Translator stations, you might recall, are low-power FM stations intended only to rebroadcast the programming of a full-power station. The ironic thing about translator stations is that they’re allowed to be packed tighter on the dial than noncommercial LPFM community stations, even though translators can operate with up to 250 watts, compared to the max of 100 watts with LPFM.

I started this post saying that the FCC is considering letting AM stations have translators, but John at DIYmedia has uncovered the fact that the FCC’s Media Bureau is already implementing this change, as if it were policy. Apparently a Bureau staffer made the announcement at the NAB Radio Show that just happened in Charlotte, NC, and it was reported by the Broadcast Law Blog run by an inside-the-beltway law firm.

Like me and John, you might ask, “How is it possible for an AM station to get an FM translator before the policy is passed?” John answers:

The unnamed staffer revealed that all AM broadcasters must do is apply for special temporary authority to run FM translator stations, and, after cursory review, the FCC will let them go ahead and invade the FM dial.

Sounds like the Media Bureau expects this policy change to be a slam-dunk, regardless of opposition in public comments or from the minority Democrat commissioners. Of course, this change is just a big wet-kiss to the big commercial radio broadcasters who need more outlets since they’ve already bought all the licenses for full-power FM stations. They generally don’t have much need for commercial FM translators since for commercial stations the translator can only be used within the full-power station’s licensed broadcast radius and are only intended to fill in areas where reception is poor due to geography and similar factors.

But allowing an AM station to have an FM translator is effectively like giving the big radio giants access to a slew of new stations, since it’s very likely those translators will reach a lot of listeners who never even listen to the AM dial.

The next thing you know the NAB will be agitating for the FCC to allow the FM translators to air different programming than the full-power stations, pushing to create a commercial, corporate consolidated version of LPFM with more liberal spacing requirements than noncomm community LPFM.

Get your license before it’s even been created. That’s democracy at the FCC!







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