WASHINGTON, DC -- A 2007 proposal from the National Association of Broadcasters, which would allow AM stations to use FM translators to increase their audience reach, has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
In a Report & Order issued Monday (Word format | PDF format), the FCC acknowledges the fact that AM radio has been "an important component of the mass media landscape" but that the band has been threatened by several other services with much better audio quality -- including the FM band, satellite radio, personal media players, and online streaming.
The FCC says it has "taken various steps to revitalize the AM band," but goes on to admit, "there are inherent technical limitations to AM service for which there is no easy solution."
The Commission acknowledges that the relatively low power allocations granted to some AM stations prevent them from covering their full market area, and thus, from being strong competitors in the marketplace. It also notes that the extension of Daylight Saving Time has caused daytime-only AM stations to lose an hour of programming time every day during the additional four weeks of DST.
In the end, the new rule allows AM stations to begin using FM translators to rebroadcast their signals. Until now, FM translators could only be used to rebroadcast other FM stations. According to a write-up at Radio-Online, the new rule also allows daytimer class D stations to transmit on their FM translators at all times, even when the primary AM signal is shut off for the night.
No word yet on whether any local stations plan to take advantage of the new rule. If you're a GM, Chief Engineer, OM or PD who knows of any plans in the works, feel free to let us know so we can update the story. The address is email@example.com or you can use our Contact Form. Non-station-employees who simply wish to comment and/or share their wish lists can do so below, in the comments area.
I wonder if this will lead to more situations of overlap where people will have a choice of listening to a syndicated program when it's run live versus when it's run tape-delayed. At one time when WFLR-AM was talk, it was possible to hear The Savage Nation live in that area, then repeated delayed on the stronger WSYR signal. However the WFLR-AM evening signal is/was so weak you about had to park in front of the tower to pick it up after dark. Certainly more options are good for the listener, unless it affects ratings to where stations change programming and make it harder to hear the desired programming. Which, in this market, wouldn't surprise me a bit.
I'd say this obvious regulatory change to breathe some life into the AM band is about 25 years late to do any good. Marginal stations under local ownership that could have most benefited from a flea-power FM in their immediate areas are for the most part gone or folded into multiple station groups. I think there are few stations remaining that would even bother, most are just keeping the meters moving with no local programming and few listeners.