AM Radio — Revitalized

The FCC moved forward with its effort to revitalize the AM band by relaxing certain technical rules and announcing a filing window for AM licensees to acquire and move FM translators up to 250 miles
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The FCC moved forward with its effort to revitalize the AM band by relaxing certain technical rules and announcing a filing window for AM licensees to acquire and move FM translators up to 250 miles. The resolution comes after a compromise was brokered by Commissioner Clyburn and will offer four different opportunities for AM licensees to acquire an FM translator.

FILING WINDOWS

First and foremost is the plan to open two filing windows for AM stations to move FM translators up to 250 miles.

There had been much debate whether the FCC should open a filing window for AM licensees to file for a new FM translator to pair with its AM station. There were concerns regarding fairness with respect to other classes of broadcast stations, and the FCC�s capacity to conduct an auction in light of the complex incentive auction that is slated to commence in March 2016.

The compromise establishes a two-phase filing window with Class C and Class D AM licensees getting the first cut at finding and acquiring existing FM translators within 250 miles. Applications submitted during the six-month window will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis and the FCC will limit licensees to only one FM translator application per AM station.

After the first window, all AM licensees (including Class C and Class D stations that took a pass in round one) will have an opportunity to file to move one FM translator during a subsequent three-month filing window.

The applications proposing the change in site location will be treated as minor change applications, and Matoon Waivers can still be used. The FCC will require that the FM translator rebroadcast the AM station for a minimum period of four years. The FCC will also waive the construction period of existing, unbuilt FM translator authorizations to ensure that there are a sufficient number of FM translators to be acquired during the windows. The applicant may request a waiver of the construction period deadline on the condition that it commits to �promptly� construct the modified FM translator station.

After both rounds of minor change application filing windows are completed, the FCC will open two filing windows for the submission of applications for new FM translators pursuant to the FCC�s auction authority. The first filing window (circa 2017) will be reserved for Class C and Class D AM licensees that did not participate in the minor change filing windows, and then a second filing window will be for all AM licensees that still do not have an FM translator after the first three rounds.

OUTREACH

The FCC directed the Media Bureau to conduct outreach to AM stations to advise them of these opportunities, and a public notice was released immediately that provided more information on these efforts. The bureau will conduct a three-month effort of emailing and advising Class C and Class D AM stations of the upcoming filing windows and the procedures for filing applications.

The bureau also set up a dedicated AM filing window email address � AMmodification@fcc.gov � for licensees to submit questions regarding the window process. The bureau estimates that the first modification filing window � for those lucky Class C and Class D AM stations � will open the first quarter of 2016, with the second window opening immediately thereafter.

The FCC also adopted several of its proposed modifications to the AM technical rules, including relaxing the community of license coverage requirements for existing AM licensees proposing to make minor changes, eliminating the �Ratchet Rule� and reducing the minimum effective field strength values by 25 percent to permit AM stations to take advantage of shorter antennas. The FCC also teed up several proposals for further review and comment. We will cover those in a subsequent article once the filing deadline for comments is established.

FCC Deadlines:

DATELINE

Dec. 1, 2015 � Noncommercial broadcast stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must file Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323-E).

Dec. 2, 2015 � All commercial broadcast stations must file Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323) with data current as of Oct. 1, 2015.

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