Media scholar Tom Taylor [link] said it best in his newsletter on Wednesday:
The real D.C. blizzard is translators!
Noncommercial operators should know we are entering The Last FM Gold Rush. FM is the best thing going about terrestrial radio. HD never happened. AM radio has languished but now the FCC is letting AM’ers move to the FM dial via rebroadcasting programming on FM translators. The FCC is allowing AM’ers to move open translators up to 250 miles away. Existing translators may be sold to AM’ers, often for big bucks.
Taylor reports that pending translator sales are already clogging the FCC and much more activity is expected. The FCC’s waiver-window opens Friday, January 29, 2016.
The FCC’s action to Move-AM-to-FM is expected to be a two-year process. The FCC’s plan is based on the counter-intuitive notion of that AM will be better when its on a FM station. This is really happening and public radio must act now before the FM spectrum has been claimed by others.
In addition to Move-AM-to-FM many commercial and noncom stations have added new FM stations via HD channels on translators. We recently reported about American Public Media’s (“APM”) Triple A The Current moving into Duluth [link]
Noncom faces a unique burden because of the FCC’s policy of letting noncom operators feed programming to repeaters and translators far outside local coverage areas. One of the biggest winners in The Last FM Gold Rush is the Education Media Foundation (“EMF”) who owns hundreds of FM translators in almost every state in the nation.
So, public radio needs to Use It or Loose It because expanding FM service will get much harder soon. When folks say "public radio needs to do something" it is generally a reference to the Corporation for Public Radio (“CPB”). CPB is an example of what works in Washington – it has made us a better America. But, CPB lives in a fishbowl and needs to be cautious.
A MOMENT OF OPPORTUNITY
Most of the news coverage about the FCC’s plan has focused on opportunities (or the lack thereof) for scarce FM spectrum in the largest markets. For noncoms, it is not about the largest markets – the real opportunity is to expand service in medium-sized markets where more local noncom voices are need. So, this opportunity is for you in Omaha, Scranton, Jacksonville, Lexington, Indianapolis and probably where you live.