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Posted July 20, 2016
By David D. Burns
As we previously reported, the FCC last year adopted a number of changes to its rules and policies aimed at revitalizing the AM radio service, which for many years has lived in the shadow of the more robust FM service. One of these changes was to expand the ability of AM broadcasters to use FM translators to rebroadcast their AM signals, thereby improving coverage, particularly at night. To accomplish this, the FCC gave each AM station the right to file one, and only one, application to move an FM translator up to 250 miles and change the translator’s frequency, provided that it is used to rebroadcast the designated AM station for the next four years. If that application does not make it through the FCC process for any reason, the broadcaster is barred from filing another.
The FCC gave smaller Class C and D AM stations first crack at its new policy by opening a window on January 29, 2016, during which Class C and D licensees could file modification applications on a first-come, first-served basis. In other words, if you filed your application on January 29, you trumped anyone who filed a conflicting application after that date. If parties file mutually exclusive applications on the same day, the applicants need to resolve the mutual exclusivity through settlement negotiations and/or technical amendments (e.g., one or both parties move to a different frequency).
The first window, limited to Class C and D AM stations, closes on July 28, 2016. On the next day, July 29, a second window opens during which Class A and B AM stations (as well as Class C and D stations that did not file in the first window) may file modification applications to relocate FM translators to be used for AM station rebroadcasts.
AM stations that have not yet filed should keep in mind that:
1. If you have a Class A or B AM station and plan to relocate an FM translator for AM rebroadcast purposes, you should get your modification application filed on July 29 in order to give yourself the maximum protection against being bumped by an earlier-filed mutually exclusive application. If you are planning to buy a translator but haven't actually acquired it yet, there are still ways to get the modification application on file before closing the acquisition.
2. If you have a Class C or D AM station and plan to relocate an FM translator for rebroadcasts (and haven't filed a modification application yet), file by July 28. While Class C and D stations will not be precluded from filing in the second window, July 29 is sure to bring a wave of new modification applications that will change the translator landscape significantly.
But even having these deadlines circled on your calendar won’t help if your modification application is dismissed. When it comes to modification applications filed in either of these windows, the FCC has made clear that its policy is one and done. A dismissed application means that you not only lose your place in the processing line, but cannot file again in the windows. Such a dismissal could occur due not only to deficiencies in the application itself, but also if your deal to acquire the translator falls through. AM broadcasters buying a translator are therefore well advised to pay careful attention to the due diligence process, the closing conditions in the acquisition agreement, the compliance of the proposed move with FCC technical rules, and their financing for the acquisition. If a deal falls through, the reason is irrelevant. You’ll be sitting out the filing window watching your competitors get their FM translators.