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FM Translators For Everyone


Acting FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn came to the NAB/RAB Radio show in Orlando with breaking news. And it was news well received by attendees, especially those who operate AM stations back home. Wednesday morning Clyburn circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, she says, "will represent the next major step in the commission's review of AM service." The proposal includes six points, many of them technical in nature, but one that caught the ears of many in the audience: The FCC will be opening a one-time filing window for AM licensees to apply for an FM translator in their service area. That means it's possible that every AM operator could eventually rebroadcast their programming on an FM translator.

Clyburn showed she clearly understands the challenges AM broadcasters face, reeling off most of the problems they've been dealing with for a long time. "The migration of AM listeners to newer, higher-fidelity, media services. The number of stations is decreasing, AM listenership is dwindling, and young people just are not tuning in. Many stations are unable to broadcast at night or must reduce their power due to the nighttime propagation characteristics of AM signals. Reinforced buildings and structures with steel frames or aluminum siding can block AM signals, leading to poor AM reception in many urban areas. And AM radio is particularly sensitive to interference from electronic devices of all types, including TV sets, vehicle engines, fluorescent lighting, computers, and power lines."

However, until now, it appeared only Commissioner Ajit Pai was onboard with some sort of AM revitalization. Clyburn made it clear Pai isn't the only friend AM broadcasters have. She's all in.Clyburn said the FCC needs the help of the broadcasters to make this happen, because it won't be easy. She said, "This is proposed rulemaking invites comment on additional proposals or rule modifications that could help to revitalize the AM band. I am eager to hear all of the well-thought-out ideas that you can provide, and I know that my colleagues on the commission are as well. There will be challenges ahead. But working together, we can ensure that AM radio and all radio can flourish going forward, allowing your businesses to prosper while continuing to deliver tremendous benefits to the American people."

Cromwell Group CEO Bud Walters told Radio Ink immediately after the speech that the FM translator window is a great idea. If AM broadcasters were all granted an FM translator, that would solve the problem. The big question is when this would happen. How long will it take to get through the process? Walters has been waiting for a response from the commission for nearly a year now regarding his Tell City, IN proposal to have WTCJ-AM rebroadcast on an FM translator, and he been given no explanation why it's taken so long for the commission to approve or deny his request.

Ben Downs, VP/GM of Bryan Broadcasting, also told Radio Ink he thinks the Clyburn announcement is  encouraging. "That was some very good news for small- to midsize-market AM operators today," he said. The AM NPRM addressed a lot of technical issues that will help when stations need to move, but that one-translator-per-AM window will solve the problem of daytimers and low-power operators. Now, when they get their translator, they will find themselves able to operate 24 hours a day and with coverage that can cover their cities of license. For a large percentage of AM broadcasters, this will be sufficient to keep them economically viable while long-term solutions are found. I think the work that Commissioner Pai has done to get things this far deserve a lot of thanks from this industry."

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