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FCC Approves Giving Translators More Flexibility From AM Distance

FCC Federal Communications Commission RadioInsight Premium ReportThe FCC has approved the proposal detailed below expanding the flexibility of FM translators rebroadcasting AM stations.

The Federal Communications Commission today expanded the site locations where FM translators can rebroadcast AM radio stations. The amended rule provides greater flexibility for an AM station to place a rebroadcasting FM translator in a location where it will better serve its AM station’s listeners.

AM radio stations that want to improve their service area with a clearer signal can do so by using an FM translator, which receives the AM signal and re-broadcasts it on an FM frequency. This is particularly useful for the many AM stations forced to reduce their power at night, since the FM translator can operate at the same power 24 hours a day.

At issue is a current FCC rule that may make finding a location for these translators unnecessarily challenging. Under the old rule, an AM station could place a rebroadcasting FM translator either within its daytime service contour or within a 25-mile radius of its transmitter, whichever distance was less. The new rule allows the rebroadcasting FM translator to be located anywhere within the AM station’s daytime service contour or anywhere within a 25-mile radius of the transmitter, even if the contour extends farther than 25 miles from the transmitter.

The current rule proved too restrictive for some AM broadcasters, especially those whose transmitters were far from their communities of license. AM transmission systems require large amounts of land, and many AM broadcasters have been forced to relocate to sites far from the cities they serve, where land is available or affordable. The rule change today especially benefits these AM stations, and also helps other AM stations whose highly directionalized technical facilities currently limit the area where they can locate a cross-service FM translator.

The Commission first authorized AM stations to rebroadcast over FM translators in 2009. In 2016, two filing windows opened that enabled more than 1,000 AM stations to acquire and relocate FM translators to rebroadcast their signals. Because of these actions, nearly 2,000 FM translators are currently rebroadcasting AM station signals, allowing many AM stations previously forced to reduce or eliminate nighttime power to now provide 24-hour service to their communities.

Today’s Order furthers the Commission’s efforts to assist AM broadcasters in providing vital radio service to consumers throughout the country.

Original Report 2/2: At the February Open Meeting the FCC will vote on a proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai to expand the flexibility of FM translators rebroadcasting an AM station as part of the ongoing AM Revitalization.

Currently translators “must be contained within the lesser of (a) the 2 millivolts per meter (mV/m) daytime contour of the AM station, or (b) a 25-mile radius centered at the AM transmitter site.”

The proposed change rewrites the ruling to translators “must be contained within the greater of either the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station or a 25-mile (40 km) radius centered at the AM transmitter site. The protected contour for an FM translator station is its predicted 1 mV/m contour.” The change would give translators more flexibility in reaching parts of the markets where its AM signal does not. For example if a 1kW AM has a null to the northeast and its protected contour only reaches say 15 miles from the tower site, the translator can now surpass the protected contour to reach the next 10 miles.

The ruling will be voted on at the FCC’s Open Meeting on February 23. Additional proposals including the next translator filing window will be set forth later.

Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

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