AM Revitalization on Main Street

After years of discussion, the commission has finally issued an R&O that contains AM-only filing windows for FM translators
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SAN ANTONIO�After years of discussion within the industry and the Federal Communications Commission, the commission has finally issued a Report and Order (FCC-15-142�here) that contains AM-only filing windows for FM translators. This is something a lot of us thought might never happen. The accompanying Public Notice (DA-15-1215�here) establishes an �outreach effort� which includes a three-month period during which eligible licensees will be encouraged to update their information with the FCC and become aware of how to prepare for the windows.

The first two windows, to be opened in 2016, allow an AM licensee to apply to move a single translator license or permit so that it could serve as a �fill-in� translator for their station. What�s different is that the FCC will, for this one application, allow us to move that license or permit up to 250 miles, their usual restrictions notwithstanding. They�re calling this a �modification� window, because you�re applying to modify the license or permit of the translator.

This requires the AM to either already own the translator, or have an accepted application to purchase it. In the latter case, we�re talking a �contingent� application because grant is contingent on the purchase becoming final. The first window is reserved for class C and D licensees only. The second window will be for all AM license classes.

There will be two more windows for brand new translators in 2017, and again the class C and D stations get to go first. Once you�ve applied in any window, you�re done. You can�t apply again, at least not in the window. But you could still apply outside the window procedure at any time. In our case, there is a silent translator very close to our site that we could acquire and move to our tower as a �minor� change, because the service contours, licensed and proposed, would overlap. Unfortunately, the owner of that license has been unwilling to talk to us, so he probably expects to enter the bidding war that will begin soon over prices and sell to one of the corporate broadcasters in a nearby large market. To get that license we might end up bidding against a big player. But since that big player can now shop from a large list of licenses and permits (in the second window), it�s not clear that the translator owner is in such a good position.

Another possibility to move a translator outside of the window is a policy called a �Mattoon Waiver� which allows a move where the service contours wouldn�t overlap but there would be interference under the FCC�s standard protection requirements (the licensed and proposed facilities would be �mutually exclusive�). Our station may have one such possibility. But if it turns out that there wouldn�t be an �MX�, we could still file for that move in the window, since the distance is much less than 250 miles. We wouldn�t need the Mattoon waiver, as long as we filed in the window.

Permits from the Auction 83 window are out there, so if your organization has one of those, you likely have a short fuse on the time to construct and obtain a license. The FCC has said that you can apply for a waiver on the usual time, if you are applying for a move in the window.

Gary O. Keener is an engineering and programming consultant in San Antonio. He�s also a partner in a 250- watt daytime-only AM station in a small market. �

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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