FCC Releases AM Revitalization Order

FCC Foreign Ownership ReviewThe FCC has released the “AM Radio Revitalization Report and Order” with its plans to help AM stations stay relevant.

The order opens with a two-pronged plan to offer FM Translators to as many AM stations as possible. First in 2016 the agency will allow where an AM licensee or permitte to acquire and relocate one and only one authorized nonreserved band FM translator station up to 250 miles, and specify any rule-compliant non-reserved band frequency. Then in 2017 or later AM stations that do not file a modification application in 2016 will be able to participate in an auction for new translators with preference being given to Class C and D licenses.

Next is a modification of community coverage standards for existing AM stations which will be lowered to to require that the daytime 5 mV/m contour encompasses either 50 percent of the area, or 50 percent of the population of the principal community to be served. However the agency states that the Media Bureau should examine closely any request by a station to reduce community coverage during its first four years of licensed on-air operation, and grant it discretion to dismiss any such application absent a compelling reason warranting reduced nighttime service.

The order will also eliminate the “Rachet Rule” that “required a Class A or B AM broadcaster, seeking to make facility changes that modified its AM signal to demonstrate that the improvements will result in an overall reduction in the amount of skywave interference that it causes to certain other AM stations”. Wider implementation of modulation dependent carrier level control technologies and modifications of antenna efficiency standards will be made to help decrease noise and interference on the AM band.

On other proposals the agency seeks addition comments before moving forward. These include modifications to the protected contours of Class A stations, daytime protections to Class B, C, and D stations, expanding FM translators from a 25 mile radius of an AM to 40 miles, and requiring the surrender of one of the licenses by stations that had been granted a second signal in the expanded band. The FCC is also inquiring on the possibility of allowing additional stations in the expanded band (1605-1705) and relaxed main studio requirements.

The full order can be read here.

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  1. Steve Varholy says

    Shouldn’t this be read as broadcasters and the FCC recognize fewer and fewer people are listening to standard band and propose to fill FM band with current AM station throwaway programming?

    1. Theater of My Mind says

      Don’t worry, broadcasters will figure out a way to turn those translators into something else besides propping up their AM stations once they get their hands on them, even if it means waiting 4 years.

  2. Nathan Obral says

    The FM translators do absolutely nothing to solve the AM issue. It’s basically an implicit admission by the FCC that AM stations no longer can survive on their own and need to be moved to the FM dial. And it guarantees that polemic based talk formats will continue to wither and disappear as the translators will pursue music-based formats that people will actually listen to in a ‘tail wagging the dog’ situation. See, WEBC/560 Duluth, which is now totally ignored as it feeds W293CT/106.5 instead.

    I’m waiting for the next proposal where AM stations can turn in their licenses and their corresponding FM translators can be upgraded to full-time signals.

  3. Jason Smith says

    Good luck to any New York City AM’s trying to get an FM translator without objections from nearby stations. Just like the fight going on with 99.3 WCON-FM and 99.3 W257DF here in Atlanta It’s going to get ugly.


  4. Mark Roberts says

    As with so many other things, such as BC Docket 80-90, the FCC takes one or two reasonable ideas and then piles a whole bunch of other counterproductive stuff on top of it, often in cahoots with broadcasters, too stupid to know what’s in their own best interests.

    Allowing class C and D stations in very small markets to acquire FM translators for more reliable full-time service actually makes sense. But this proposal goes way beyond that. The FCC should have limited this proposal to markets where there are no more than two AM stations. I admit that’s an arbitrary cut-off point, but what should be avoided is allowing AM-to-FM translators in larger markets where’s there already plenty of service available.

    Eliminating the ratchet rule is probably the right thing to do. The band is already trashed with interference, so this shouldn’t be a material increase in that interference. Will stations that have been subject to the rule be able to “de-ratchet”?

    But allowing FM translators to be hauled around the country just like the portable stations of the 1920s? Really? Why not just be more straightforward about it and open up application windows (which, to be fair, the FCC does in subsequent years).

    Considering allowing more stations on the expanded band? So it will sound just as bad as the other 106 channels on the AM band? That’s just foolish. If anything, measures should be taken to reduce the number of class C and class D stations in competitive markets. I would spare such stations in small communities where there are few other services. But in medium, large, and even some small markets? They are hardly necessary. If they can’t survive in their present state, let ’em go off the air in hopes of reducing the noise floor.

    The change in the daytime coverage rules? All this would do is encourage move-ins. Bad idea. The only good thing that could come of that is if the FCC would then take further steps to license stations by market rather than by city. City-based licensing is a joke, and has been for decades, as all the hyphenated AM or FM legal IDs clearly demonstrate. The California station at 1510 kHz on an Oakland warehouse roof is no more a Piedmont station (its city of license) than any other station in the Bay Area, just to name one of a thousand examples.

    Ultimately, it is too late to save AM. Proposals such as these come thirty years too late. AM’s best use at this point is to allow a small number of high-powered stations to provide coverage to large areas that can’t be covered well by FM stations, along with relatively low-powered stations serving small communities outside major metropolitan areas. If the rest can’t stand on their own, they should go dark.

  5. Jay Rudko says

    Translators are nothing more than a band-aid approach, crowding an already overcrowded FM band even more. What really needs to be done is to concentrate on upgrading the technical aspects of the AM band itself. Programming is the other thing. If an AM station’s programming isn’t attracting listeners on its own band, what makes one think it will on FM?

    1. Nathan Obral says

      Highly likely that AM stations will dump their poorly-performing conservatalk formats for music formats, branded solely with the FM translator’s frequency… just like the vast majority of HD2 and HD3 signals under iHeart and Cumulus.

      It’s definitely a win for the station owners, as they can effectively abandon their useless AM signals outright while introducing de facto FM stations into the market. But for the AM band… it’s a death knell.

  6. MickeyD says

    This will work out well. Just look at W291CC (WNBP’s Translator) licensed for 90 watts ERP completely wiping out WSCA-LP in Portsmouth both on 106.1.

    You cannot hear WSCA outside of the studio. In fact you can hear W291CC into Maine. There is no 90 watts signal that can do this.

    1. Nathan Obral says

      So… if the translator vastly outperforms the AM station from an audience and technical standpoint… what point is there to keeping the AM station around? Absolutely none if you ask me. The FM translator is an outright admission that the AM station is a failure and cannot succeed on its own… but apparently handing in the license and sell off the transmitter land is not an option.

      I fail to see how this is going to work, let alone “revitalizing” a broadcast band that effectively has a DNR order plastered on it.

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