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(OP-ED) FCC Hear FM Engineering Proposal

7-2-14

Last Tuesday, Carl Haynes of WRTM-FM and I had the tremendous privilege of meeting with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Ajit Pai to discuss a pending engineering proposal before the Commission that could allow for hundreds of Class A FM radio stations to double their effective radiated power levels. The plan would also permit certain stations to realize specific service improvements to their signals without interfering with the protected contours of other facilities.

The commissioners, along with their respective chiefs of staff, were presented with a letter of support for the proposal, which was co-signed by 134 broadcasters representing 616 stations (see the letter online at http://www.wyab.com/petition/). The supporters of the plan are quite diverse, including single-station owners and large-group operators alike, NAB board members, LPFM managers, and even stand-alone AM licensees.

It was clear that both commissioners and their staffs are genuinely concerned with the signal reception problems that often plague small broadcasters.

SSR Communications, Inc., licensee of WYAB 103.9 FM in Flora, Mississippi, co-drafted the petition with the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council in 2012, filing the request formally with the FCC in January, 2013 (view the petition in its entirety at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=6017160905). The Commission has yet to issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, despite broad support for the idea.

If adopted in full, the proposal would create an intermediate power class for stations located in Zone II (generally, those licensees located in rural states). Situated in between FM Class A and FM Class C3, the new FM Class C4 allocation would allow eligible stations to specify a maximum effective radiated power level of 12,000 watts from a reference antenna height above average terrain of 100 meters. The petitioners found that approximately one-third of all Zone II Class A FM stations may be eligible to apply for the C4 class, corresponding to many hundreds of upgrade opportunities for small broadcasters.

The petition also asks the Commission to allow operators who propose specific service-area improvements to protect certain under-built neighboring stations to their actual signal contours via Section 73.215, rather than hypothetical maximum contours, provided that the affected under-built station has operated below its class maximum parameters (or equivalent thereof) for the immediate preceding 10-year period.

Given the many hundreds of stations that could improve their service areas, millions of additional potential listeners added without interference to existing stations, the economic benefit of funds allocated to new transmitters, antennas, consultants, FCC attorney fees, and every other positive aspect associated with this proposal, it is time for the Commission to bring this petition out for comment and issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking without delay.

Matthew Wesolowski is the general manager of WYAB 103.9 FM/Flora, MS.
He can be contacted at: 601-201-2789 / matt@wyab.com




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