In the last two translator windows, I handled applications for more than a dozen clients, and it seemed like I heard from all of them (and most of their lawyers) on Thursday after the news broke about the Prometheus informal objection that was filed against roughly a thousand pending translator applications nationwide.
Whether or not it was done on purpose, the objection’s timing couldn’t have been worse. The two-week waiting period for petitions to deny against the first of the Auction 100 applicants just ran out last week, which means the Audio Division had just started to issue construction permits to station owners who had been waiting months (or even years) to start building out their new FM signals.
My clients, for the most part, aren’t the “big guys.” They’re standalone station operators in small towns like DuQuoin, Illinois, where I’m helping a community group save a local radio station that was on the verge of going dark. As a consultant and broker, I take great pride in helping struggling station owners keep local radio voices alive. And yes, the translator windows have done just that in a lot of towns, helping owners put their content where listeners’ ears are.
Community radio comes in many forms. LPFM is one of those forms, but not the only one. I helped build an LPFM in my hometown a couple of years ago, and I still provide them with pro bono help with EAS and other regulatory compliance issues. I’m not alone in doing that, I don’t think; a lot of good LPFMs out there get help from their fellow full-power broadcasters. I’ve talked with some LPFM advocates who have an idea that full-power broadcasters are opposed to what they do, and that’s just not the case most of the time. Most of the owners I know are happy to let LPFMs do what they do, serving niche audiences that don’t really compete with the Tradio and high-school football and car dealer remotes that are the AM/translator bread and butter.
I fear that Prometheus may have endangered that goodwill, though, with this ill-timed, overly-broad objection that’s almost designed to create enemies where they didn’t previously exist. I know my clients aren’t happy about having to spend time and money working with their lawyers to understand the objection, especially when most of their applications don’t have any impact at all on availability of channels in a future LPFM filing window. Will they be as quick to offer up excess gear, tower space or advice the next time they’re approached by an LPFM in their town? And will the industry as a whole take a harder stance toward some of Prometheus’ reasonable proposals?
My colleague Michi Bradley of REC Networks, who also works with both LPFMs and AM translator applicants, has some deeper thoughts on the Prometheus specifics at her site, where she’s calling on Prometheus to withdraw its overly-broad objection immediately. (I concur.)
In the meantime, my clients and hundreds more around the country are at least temporarily on hold awaiting their construction permits. I’m hearing that NAB lawyers have been talking with the Audio Division and are urging translator applicants not to panic. We’ll all be watching closely to see how this plays out.