Commissioner Ajit Pai in September talked about AM radio. He called upon his
fellow commissioners and the agency’s staffers to “focus on one basic question:
Are there regulatory barriers we can remove to help this sector rebound?” (Read
Pai’s remarks at radioworld.com/links.)
Owner Bud Walters. ‘As much as I would love to save the AM technical facility
as we know it, its days are likely numbered.’
Here, Cromwell Radio Group owner Bud Walters and Womble Carlyle
communications law attorney John Garziglia discuss AM revitalization — in
particular, Walters’ proposal to make it easier for AM stations to move
existing FM translators farther, and thus allow more of them to re-broadcast
their AM signals.
are two ways to look at AM revitalization. One way is to think about just the
AM technical facility and what can be done to make that facility sound better,
be better received, and be more listenable. The other way to look at AM
revitalization is to think about what can be done to enhance the service to the
community now provided by the AM station.
look at AM revitalization from the aspect of how to best continue to serve the
AM’s community with the radio service that in many cases has been part of that
community for decades.
also view AM revitalization from this perspective. AM radio as a technical
matter has been hit so hard from so many angles. The noise levels affecting AM
reception have risen dramatically with the proliferation of computers, noisy
light bulbs and dirty power lines. AM signals do not penetrate most office
buildings. Listeners are not willing to tolerate different night and day
patterns, or no nighttime service at all, from AM radio stations. Automobile
manufacturers are installing horrible AM antennas on newer cars. There just are
not any feasible fixes to the AM technical facility that can overcome these
of this noise interference might be somewhat mitigated if the FCC allowed for
dramatic power increases for all AM stations. But, a huge capital expenditure
in the tens of thousands of dollars for new transmission equipment is just not
possible for most AM broadcasters, let alone paying a power bill that would be
10 times what it now costs for electricity. A large power increase for AM
stations is a non-starter even if it comes with the benefit of 10 times the
current AM power. Thus, as much as I would love to save the AM technical
facility as we know it, its days are likely numbered.
proposals for AM revitalization include moving AM to all-digital, or to TV
Channels 5 and 6. Those proposals fall into the “enhancement of service to the
community” approach. But with these types of approaches, the billion or so
radio receivers in our country that currently receive AM would be
Walters: Either all-digital or moving current AM stations
to a new band sounds exciting. My concern is how many years that’s likely to
take. Saying to AM broadcasters, “Just wait 15 years or so until 2028 and AM
radio will be resuscitated on a new band” appears to be not much of a solution
at all. I believe that if the FCC wishes to continue the AM service now
provided to communities, it must come up with something that can be implemented
much more quickly.
really leaves the FCC with only one immediately implementable solution to AM
revitalization, which is to remove regulatory barriers to AM stations acquiring
FM translators. FM translators are here now. There are enough of them out
there, both licensed and applied-for, that removing commission regulatory
barriers to AM stations acquiring FM translators would be a win for AM
revitalization as well as for the listening public.
experience in pairing an FM translator with an AM station is that there is an
immediate increased acceptance for the AM station in the community. As with any
business, if there is not enough revenue coming in, it is impossible for the
business to keep operating.
AMs have suffered diminished revenue not only
due the technical challenges to AM reception but also as a result of the
public’s perception of AM. When advertisers have the perception that people are
not listening to AM stations, it is next to impossible to bring in enough
revenue to support even minimal programming on an AM station. The carriage of
an AM station on an FM translator makes a dramatic difference.
discussion illustrates the importance of your WTCJ(AM), Tell City, Ind. waiver
request for the transmitter site and channel move of the Central City, Ky. FM
translator to carry WTCJ (FCC File No. BPFT-20121116ALE). [For original news
story see radioworld.com/links.]
Commissioner Pai is seeking to eliminate
regulatory barriers that hinder the AM radio sector. Unfortunately, for many AM
stations including WTCJ, there simply is not an FM translator available for
acquisition within the minimal several miles radius within which the FCC now
limits FM translator moves. The agency’s restriction on moving FM translators
more than several miles is a huge regulatory barrier to bringing FM translator
service to many AM stations.
Womble Carlyle’s John Garziglia. ‘The agency’s
restriction on moving FM translators more than several miles is a huge
regulatory barrier to bringing FM translator service to many AM stations.’
removal of that FCC regulatory barrier prohibiting FM translator moves of an
appreciable distance is an immediate, substantive step that the FCC could take
to revitalize AM stations. If an AM station is allowed to search fifty or more
miles from its transmitter site for an FM translator it might acquire and move,
it is more likely that such an FM translator can be found.
that there must be a definitive regulatory distance limit to the moves of FM
translators, the WTCJ waiver request proposes that an AM station’s interfering
contour specified in Section 73.37(a) of the commission’s rules, the 0.025 mV/m
contour, be the outer limit within which an AM station can seek an FM
translator to move to serve the AM station. The WTCJ application proposes that
if an FM translator’s transmitter site is within the AM station’s 0.025 mV/m
contour and a move is not proposed into an LPFM spectrum-limited market, the AM
licensee may replace that FM translator’s current service with a move of the FM
translator to serve the AM station as its primary station provided the move is
in compliance with other FCC technical rules.
often, government agencies such as the FCC look at things in terms of big
solutions. Big solutions, however, often take years to implement. It has taken
the FCC almost a decade to process the FM translator applications filed in
2003. While another FM translator filing window in the future would be
beneficial, an FM translator window for AM stations would not provide actual
relief to AMs for many years.
While not all AM stations will benefit from the
FCC’s grant of a waiver to allow for more substantial FM translator moves to
serve AM stations, many will benefit. It appears that the removal of the
current regulatory barrier on FM translator moves is something the commission
can legally do now that will have an immediate, substantial, beneficial effect
upon many AM stations.
WTCJ waiver request is premised upon a replacement of service theory. Just as a
full-service FM station can now apply to move from one channel to another even
though the channels may not be mutually-exclusive with one another and both
facilities could co-exist, WTCJ is asking the FCC to apply the same rationale
to the replacement of an existing translator service area with another service
area. While there is no FCC rule or policy that requires the agency to allow
this, we make the case in the WTCJ waiver request that there is likewise no FCC
rule or policy that prohibits this if the commission wishes to grant such a
waiver to encourage AM revitalization.
it easier for AM stations to obtain FM translators is an AM revitalization solution
staring the FCC in the face. It is an action that the FCC can take today.
translators are not authorized on a Section 307(b) basis to provide service to
particular community. Therefore, it makes public interest sense to allow for substantial
FM translator transmitter site moves where the listening public can be better
served by the replacement of translator service at one location in order to
serve an AM station’s audience at another location.
Walters: I am hoping that
Commissioner Pai is serious in his call for AM revitalization and that he, and
the FCC chairman and other commissioners will make it happen quickly. The WTCJ
waiver is an action that the FCC’s Audio Division can take right now to
eliminate an agency regulatory barrier and help revitalize AM stations. Having
the WTCJ waiver granted would serve as an important FCC precedent. The
availability of the waiver enabling a move of FM translators within a wider
area to re-broadcast AM stations would have an immediate, substantive, effect
upon the vitality of many AM stations.