The Hypocrisy of Broadcasters on the FM Band

September 24, 2016

The recent movement by the FCC known as “AM Revitalization” is taking our industry by storm. And with good reason. I am a firm believer that we will see the end of AM transmission during my career in radio, and quite possibly see AM completely shut down in the next 10-15 years. That explains the Commission’s aggressive posture on pushing AM broadcasters to find other alternatives for the content on their AM stations.

Many multi-station operators who operate HD FM stations have been re-broadcasting their AMs on secondary HD channels for years, and with the new FM translator rules in place for cross-band translators, many groups are taking full advantage of the newfound grace from the FCC. (Our group alone has purchased, and are moving into our various markets, five translators for our AMs this year). However, just a few short years ago, it was the same broadcasters who were fighting furiously against the LPFM movement over some of the very same technical issues surrounding turning up more low power stations all over the FM band.

LPFM

In 2007, the National Association of Broadcasters and its members lobbied the FCC to keep existing third-adjacent protections firmly in place when considering LPFM applications. NAB’s EVP Dennis Warton said at the time, “Though this is a recommendation identical to one made several years ago by the FCC, NAB continues to believe that statutory third-adjacent channel protections are critically important to protect listeners against interference. The idea that hundreds, if not thousands, of additional LPFM stations can be shoe-horned into an overcrowded radio dial without causing considerable interference simply defies the laws of physics.”

However just nine years later, apparently the “laws of physics” no longer apply. We are about to turn up an FM translator on a second-adjacency to an in-market Class A. Legally. And our case is not the exception.

While I am certainly in favor of the responsible path to end AM transmission, and moving those broadcasts to other transmission mediums, I am concerned about the damage that we are causing to the FM band in the process. From the addition of IBOC sidebands on many high-power FMs in recent years, and now with the introduction of thousands of new low power translators, many on second-adjacent frequencies in-market, the potential for additional interference and increased noise floor is almost guaranteed.

So I find it somewhat hypocritical as a collective industry that we are gobbling these frequencies up as fast as we can, ignoring the long-standing protections that had been in place, and a very short memory to many of the objections we had over LPFM. That’s business I suppose, but it’s still bad for the FM band.

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