(By Ken Trujillo) Last week, my company, Aztec Capital Partners, Inc., the licensee of WHAT-AM, Philadelphia, filed a petition for rule-making in an effort to bring more equity to the FCC’s FM translator rules, so that local radio service and local listeners are not harmed by distant radio stations. Many AM stations like ours, that acquire FM translators, are being negatively impacted by distant stations alleging interference that either keeps the AM station from obtaining an FM translator, or adversely impacts the FM translator after the initiation of operations.
To be clear, we seek a rebalancing of the equities in the FM translator rules, and specifically Section 74.1203(a)(3) and Section 74.1204(f) of those rules, so that local radio service is not removed by distant radio stations far outside the local radio market.
There has been a fundamental shift in the nature of FM translators in that they now provide AM revitalization lifelines and diverse HD sub-channel programming to local radio listeners. We applaud FCC Chairman Pai’s and the FCC’s efforts to revitalize the AM band. However, FCC policy and rules have not adjusted in order to realize that goal.
FM translators carrying AM stations and the diverse programming of HD sub-channels are now vital to many communities and listeners. We believe that the FCC should not remove local radio service provided by an FM translator from the air unless there is a significant public interest to do so, and only if the public would be significantly served by such a loss of service. Thus, we are asking for changes in the FCC’s rules to protect local radio listeners.
WHAT is one of only two radio stations providing Spanish-language programming to the fast-growing Philadelphia-market Hispanic population, and the only Latino-owned radio station in the Philadelphia market. We were excited when the first window opened that allowed us to acquire, and move into Philadelphia, an FM translator to rebroadcast our award-winning programming. In our case, an FM translator would provide tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of listeners, access to our programing.
However, well over a year has passed and we have not been able to construct our FM translator. We have been blocked by filings submitted by the licensee of an FM Class A station some 50 miles away in a southern New Jersey town as it attempts to extend its signal into the Philadelphia metro area, claiming listeners far outside its community of license and service area. These filings include identical cookie-cutter statements alleging interference to at most several dozen purported distant listeners in the Philadelphia metro area. The distant southern New Jersey station is keeping enhanced and consistent local service from being provided to an exponentially greater number of WHAT listeners. This same southern New Jersey station has also filed against an FM translator station located west of Philadelphia, again claiming distant Philadelphia area listeners to the detriment of the local radio listeners to the FM translator.
Six years ago I purchased the historic WHAT, 1340 AM, Philadelphia, one of the first stations in Philadelphia. WHAT was the first radio station with African-American talent on the air and was where legendary singer Jim Croce was a disc jockey.
As a lawyer active in community issues, I was motivated to buy WHAT because of a lack of relevant content for the Philadelphia region’s Latino community. We rebranded the station as El Zol Philly. Along with music and information, WHAT provides the only Spanish-language political talk show in the market.
We were excited when the first 250-mile window opened, and we were one of two AM stations given the authority to acquire, and move into Philadelphia, an FM translator to rebroadcast our award-winning programming. An FM translator provides tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of additional listeners access to our WHAT programing.
In a large market with only two Spanish language stations, radio is quite literally the lifeline for our community. For days during Hurricane Sandy, our station was often the only source of news and information to the Spanish-language community.
The economics of operating a targeted, local community-oriented radio station in a major market are challenging under any circumstance. A reliable and consistent companion FM signal to WHAT is vital to attract and maintain our heritage station’s listening audience.
Our goal with this rule-making petition is for the FCC to ensure that its AM revitalization efforts reach the intended result. We all know that radio is most useful and valuable when its programming is relevant to a local audience. The FCC should not allow local radio service to be removed by distant radio stations far outside the local radio market.
Ken Trujillo is a lawyer in Philadelphia and the President/Owner of Aztec Capital Partners, Inc., the licensee of WHAT. He is a past candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org / 484-562-0510.