It appears that the FCC is contemplating a waiver to allow FM translators proposing to carry AM stations a transmitter site move of up to 250 miles. This reportedly would be in lieu of an AM-only auction filing window for new FM translators. Both the 250-mile waiver, and an AM-only auction filing window, would benefit our AM service. Each is immediately implementable. But, AM broadcasters should be careful not to reject the partial solution of the 250-mile waiver in favor of no solution at all.
Radio Ink reported Thursday in “The FCC Is Cooking Up Its Own Translator Plan?” that some AM broadcasters are opposing the 250-mile waiver. The reason given for the opposition is that it could “potentially favor larger and better-funded groups over smaller AM stations that would not be able to compete for those translators.” This is misguided and short-sighted thinking on the part of AM broadcasters. (Full disclosure: I represent an AM broadcaster seeking a similar waiver.)
An auction filing window for FM translators will not necessarily give a free FM translator to an AM station. An AM broadcaster is short-sighted to believe that there will not be other broadcasters, perhaps some larger and better funded, who will bid up the price of an applied-for new translator in an auction window.
As with every previous FCC auction filing window, there are likely to be multiple mutual-exclusivities between applicants. There is also the matter of timing. AM broadcasters should keep in mind that the FM translator auction from the 2003 translator filing window is, 12 years later, yet to occur. While it is hoped that an auction for AM stations applying in a newly announced window for FM translators could occur more expeditiously, anyone who has applied for a new station under the FCC’s auction processes knows that it often takes years rather than months for new station applications to be granted.
Conversely, a grant of the 250-mile waiver to acquire an underutilized FM translator in the marketplace, and move that translator to enhance an AM station’s reception, will give a business certainty to an AM station. As little as 50 days could elapse between the time that an AM station files the assignment of license application and modification application, and receives FCC approval for its FM translator acquisition and move. There is no public interest reason why an FM translator facility that the marketplace determines could be more efficiently used to enhance AM service at a more desired location should be restricted from moving.
This is not to argue that our AM service would not also be greatly enhanced by the concurrent announcement of a future auction filing window for AM stations seeking FM translators. There will be AM stations that, under the contemplated 250-mile waiver, are unable or unwilling to acquire an underutilized FM translator in the marketplace.
As noted above, however, an auction filing window for new FM translators is, by definition, a speculative venture for AM stations. There is no business certainty in an auction window filing process for any particular AM station that an FM translator will be obtained. Some AM stations applying for an FM translator in an auction window may be fortunate in obtaining an FM translator without going to auction. Other AM stations could just as easily be embroiled in an FCC auction at which the bidding price quickly spirals out of range.
A combination of the 250-mile waiver and an AM auction window for FM translators would bring both a business certainty now to AM stations in acquiring FM translators, and a relief mechanism in the future for those AM stations that are unable or unwilling to bargain for an underutilized existing FM translator in the marketplace. It would be a beneficial amalgamation of relief to assist AM stations and enhance AM reception to the listening public.
If, however, the FCC is unwilling to open an auction filing window now for AM stations to apply for new FM translators, AM broadcasters should not reject the potential benefit under the contemplated 250-mile waiver of casting a much wider net than now allowed in acquiring and moving FM translators.