Any broadcaster, no matter how much power his or her station has, always wants more. Hence, it is entirely predictable that licensees of 6-kilowatt Class A FM stations would desire to double their power with a new FM classification known as Class C4. But, the effect of Class C4 power increases on FM translators carrying AM and HD sub-channel stations may bear some resemblance to the plastic explosive of the same name. Broadcasters should be careful what they wish for.
The Class C4 power increase is the brainchild of Matthew Wesolowski, sought in a 2014 Petition for Rulemaking. Mr. Wesolowski, not surprisingly, advocates for this across-the-board rule change to benefit his own FM station. He predicts that Class C4 FM power increases would allow for 12 kilowatts effective radiated power for approximately one-third of all Class A FM stations now located in the Class C regions of the country.
The FCC took comments in 2014 on the Class C4 proposal in RM-11727. The most recent substantive filing is a letter sent to the FCC Chairman and Commissioners dated January 31, 2017 from the Multicultural Media, Telecommunications and Internet Council. MMTC advocates in favor of the Class C4 proposal to enable independent and minority-owned FM stations to upgrade their facilities. Apparently, based upon Chairman Pai’s February 6, 2018 comments to the MMTC, MMTC was persuasive as the Chairman reports that the FCC will release a formal petition for rulemaking proposing the Class C4 rule change.
In the past, I was all for maximum power and coverage for FM stations. As the attorney representing the proponents of both the Class C3 and Class C0 FM station power levels some years ago, I would ordinarily be hard pressed to find fault with any power increase proposal.
But, two important aspects of FM broadcasting have dramatically changed in recent years. Years ago, FM translators were not being used by AM broadcasters as a lifeline to reach audiences. In addition, years ago FM translators were not being used by HD sub-channels for the rebroadcast of diverse programming to analog radios. The adoption of the Class C4 proposal, by expanding signal contours and impinging upon FM translator service areas, will jeopardize the continuing existence of many FM translators.
Class C4 power increases will harm radio listeners of FM translators carrying revitalized AM stations and diverse programming from HD sub-channels. If Class C4 power increases are allowed, the FCC should consider commensurate protections for local radio audiences of FM translators.
Indeed, Mr. Wesolowski proposed such protections for local listeners to FM translators in his August 7, 2014 comments jointly filed with the undersigned. Mr. Wesolowski noted the “importance of consistent and reliable AM service and diverse HD sub-channel programming [otherwise] unavailable to analog radio listeners from fill-in FM translators” and advocated for “the adoption of … safeguards for the fill-in FM translator service …”.
Therefore, in the FCC’s consideration of the Class C4 power increase proposal, a rule change that could displace or eliminate many current FM translators, the FCC should also consider including the following protections:
— Any translator displacement should only be with the assent of the translator licensee, and the FCC should allow the translator to move to any other channel on the FM band of the translator’s choosing, consistent with FCC rules.
— The FCC’s rules should be amended to limit any interference complaint only to a complaint arising within the first year of the translator’s or existing station’s operations with current facilities, and only within the existing station’s protected contour, without respect to whether interference arises for a Class C4 station or for any other FM station.
The Class C4 power increase is in the public interest provided it does not endanger FM translators carrying AM stations and HD sub-channel stations. Our broadcast industry should not trade nominal power increases for some, for a loss of FM translator service to others. The FCC must protect local radio listeners whose favorite FM translator radio stations would be otherwise shut down due to Class C4 power increases.
John Garziglia is a communications attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or John.Garziglia@wbd-us.com