Archive for the ‘The FCC’ Category

1,000 new FM “stations” to save AM

Friday, August 11th, 2017

The FCC gave AM stations an opportunity to request an FM translator without requiring them to buy an existing license. Around 1,000 licenses have been applied for.

Here is The List

When this process is complete, most AM stations will be heard on FM unless either the AM station is derelict or is located in a big city where no FM frequency is available.

The end of AM radio

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

It is painfully obvious now that the way the FCC is going to “save” AM radio is to destroy it. Part of the dowry that arrived with the Countess is a Bose wave radio. Other than infrequent use inside the car, I have not listened to over the air radio in a very long time.

WBT-AM is the big AM heritage station. We are less than three miles from the transmitter towers, so it booms in. The other news talk stations, not so much. WBCN-AM, the expanded band station doesn’t come in at all at night. While tuning the FM band, I found a news/talk “station” on FM that was not in the database. It turns out Beasley (who bought the CBS stations) switched an existing FM translator to be a simulcast of WBCN-AM, probably as a translator of the HD2 channel of an FM that was already simulcasting the AM station. Although only 250 watts, it was booming in.

WRHL-AM in Rock Hill has a scratchy fringe signal during the day, but an FM translator that booms in during the day. WGNC-AM also carries news/talk, but very sketchy reception. It has an FM translator that might not be hearable, but I didn’t check yet.

The latest FCC rules change relaxed the rules so FM translators can reach listeners beyond the protected contour of the original AM license. Translators are very inexpensive and easy to relocate.

I can’t imagine why anyone would want an AM license other than as a legality to operate an FM translator. The only AM stations in this area that aren’t already available on FM are Spanish language and prerecorded religious fund solicitations. Once a car radio switches to FM, it isn’t going back. And with the new options, it can’t be assumed that over the air AM/FM is even a reasonable choice.

The Urge to Merge

Monday, May 8th, 2017

A media merger that has been speculated about since the NAB convention has happened. Ā  TV companies that got cash windfall from the spectrum auction are in a buying mood.

One such company is Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair owns around 200 TV station licenses. Sinclair received $313 million in cash by agreeing to free up the spectrum needed by wireless providers.

Sinclair is acquiring the post bankruptcy remains of Tribune Media, which owns WGN-AM in Chicago – one of the oldest radio stations in the country. Tribune was prohibited from buying other stations in major cities where it owned a daily newspaper because of FCC cross ownership rules from the 1930s. Tribune divested itself of the Chicago Cubs baseball team before it emerged from bankruptcy.

Tribune also has spun off the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinal newspapers in 2014. Sinclair is paying $3.6 billion for 39 TV licenses, WGN, and assorted cable TV properties like the Food Channel. This deal was possible only because the FCC reversed an Obama era decision to limit the nfluence of large TV companies.

FCC formally proposes ending Main Studio rule

Monday, May 1st, 2017

With some exceptions, all radio stations are required to have a “main studio”, which is open and staffed during business hours within close proximity to the community of service where the radio station is located.

FCC proposal

The new Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai has formally published the proposal to end the main studio rule. The rule already is significantly ignored and enforcement tends to be on a “we want to punish someone” basis for unrelated reasons – not that the public has any actual interest in visiting a physical office to review the public inspection file, which the FCC now allows people to view on the FCC website.

Long term, I’m not sure that this is a good thing. Right now there is at least a minimal presence in the communities – that cumulus and Iheart are likely to end to save money. Combined with relaxing foreign ownership rules, American Radio will become great again with unstaffed stations carrying programming from Mexico City.

The proposal does retain the requirement that the station have a local phone number, but that is close to a meaningless requirement. It is trivial to acquire a phone number without regard to where the answering phone is physically located. The only possible benefit is the call is a local call to the caller, but relatively few people still use land lines with a local calling area

Congress repeals “internet privacy” protections

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Washington Post

The FCC is not part of the executive branch – it is an independent commission that is accountable to Congress. The only authority the FCC has is to do those things delegated to it by Congress by law and contained in the Code of Federal Regulation in Section 47

Recently departed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, knowing he had two flunkies that would vote for anything, started creating new powers for the FCC not authorized by Congress, the largest being Net Neutrality. The wide ranging proposals were not shown to the two Republican commission members and put into effect with minimal public comment. Rather than fight in the courts, Congress is undoing Wheeler’s usurpation of regulation of the Internet.

So sorry, I forgot to renew my licenses…

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Jose Garcia holds the licenses for three AM radio stations in Texas. He failed to file his license renewals in 2013. The FCC informed him the licenses had expired and he needed to turn off the transmitter power. He filed the renewals four months late and asked permission to keep the licenses pending a determination by the FCC. The FCC reduced the fine to $2000 after reviewing the tax returns.

FCC Consent Decree

A few months ago, Mr Garcia requested permission to turn the stations off. He says he has no money, no staff, and says he is sick and has an excuse note from his doctor. The FCC said “no”, even though he is a minority station owner – something of great importance to the FCC

Saving AM radio?

Tom Wheeler to step down as FCC chairman

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

The FCC commission is run by 5 people, no more than 3 of which can belong to the same political party. The President chooses the members who serve 5 year terms, subject to Senate confirmation. Past practice is that commissioners are approved in pairs, so that the board doesn’t deadlock 2-2. It needs 3 members to have a quorum. Senate practice has been to allow a single senator to put a nomination on hold, sometimes as extortion for some completely unrelated issue.

The current membership is

Democrats: Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel
Republicans: Ajit Pai, Michael O’Rielly

In theory, Donald J Trump could appoint a Libertarian and make the Commission 3 Republicans, 1 Democrat and 1 Libertarian. Mignon Clyburn is the daughter of Jim Clyburn, third in line in the House Democratic leadership. Mignon’s prior experience was running a weekly newspaper that rounded up votes for her father in the black community. Her main policy interests have been to protect minority owned radio stations, including intervening to have licenses reinstated when Station owners refused to follow FCC rules.

Wheeler has removed everything controversial from the meeting agenda. The TV Spectrum auction was a dismal failure. Ajit Pai has been on the warpath about Wheeler just writing new rules like net neutrality and not even circulating the proposals for comment – just showing up with the finished product at the meetings, knowing his lackeys would just vote on everything 3-2. It’s the Obama concept of bipartisanship.

Payback is a bitch. When Wheeler resigns on January 20th, Pai is expected to take over as interim chairman. Trump could reappoint Jessica as the 2nd Democrat or propose someone else. Pai could be promoted to permanent chairman or Trump might name someone new. I wonder if Howard Stern is available for the opening.

Welcome the online FCC Public Inspection File

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

The FCC requires all full license AM and FM stations to maintain a “public inspection file” at the “main studio” for anyone to visit without prior arrangements. The content of this file has included complaint letters from crackpots, program lists, etc… virtually the only person who has ever asked to see this file is an FCC inspector who wants to fine a station for some unrelated reason that isn’t technically a violation. Failure to keep an EAS log is another way the FCC fines you to let you know who is in charge.

The unadmitted reality is few stations have an actual studio staffed during business hours (another reason for a fine!) or the office is not convenient. So the FCC modernized this requirement to allow the FCC Public Inspection File *online at the FCC*, which will make it much easier to fine the radio stations for non-compliance as the FCC shuts down many of its field offices and can’t punish in person.

I just saw the first station with this feature. It has the advantage that this is the first time the station website URL is directly available from the FCC.

These Station profiles may make this website obsolete šŸ˜‰

Change coming to the FCC

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

While the Supreme Court has more significant long term effects, the selection of Trump will profoundly change the FCC. The FCC is legally not a direct part of the government – it is an independent “commission” that operates independently, deriving its funding from license fees.

The government has two methods to control the FCC – Section 73 of the US code lays out the rules that empower the FCC. The FCC has no legal basis in jumping into “net neutrality”. Legal challenges are probable.

The other means of control is the selection of FCC board members. There are 5 members – the law says that no more than 3 members may belong to the political party of the President. That would not prevent 3 Republicans and two Libertarians šŸ˜‰

Chairman is chosen by the President, not the other members. One of the existing members is the daughter of an influential Democratic Congressman and completely unprepared and unqualified to do the job. Chairman Wheeler has been steamrolling things one after the other, ignoring holding hearings, circulating proposals for comment, etc. things are particularly bitter between Wheeler and Republican Amit Pai. Pai opposed the regulatory takeover of the Internet by the FCC.


It is customary for the board members to offer to resign on a change of party, but not a requirement. They serve for 5 year terms and are subject to Senate confirmation. Typically one US Senator uses their veto power to enforce that the balance remain 3-2, or 2-1 with commissioners approved in pairs, so the Commission doesn’t wind up 3-0 because of blocked nominees. Pai is very likely to be proposed as FCC Chairman. He is best known for his campaign to save AM radio. The other Republican is a communications law attorney who can turn ideas into legalese. It is common for the FCC to draft regulations for new things and hand it to Congress to add in to section 73. Your average Congressman could not explain the difference between ionospheric reflection and ground wave propagation. That’s why Congress lets the FCC write its own rules.

It’s very likely this change at the top will panic sellers to conclude the FCC spectrum auction for TV to wireless reassignment, or the entire process might be scrapped under new leadership. Wheeler is a cell phone company guy, so the process reflects his opinions, like blocking ATT and Verizon from buying more spectrum, and instead giving it to Carlos Slim from Mexico.

TV auction update

Monday, October 31st, 2016

The FCC’s decision to be middleman between TV stations willing to surrender licenses and wireless companies willing to buy them is going horribly.

The basic process is the FCC set a target of how many TV channels to eliminate nationwide, then make TV stations bid downward to get the lowest price possible. Once the cost was established, wireless providers would bid upwards to buy the spectrum and the FCC would handle the shuffle. If the wireless companies bid more than the TV owners demanded, the profit would go into the US treasury, in theory.

Round one ended with a spread of $88 billion price vs $11 billion offered. Round two endedalso without success, with the gap down to only $33 billion. One of the factors leading to this result is the FCC not allowing AT&T and Verizon to bid in major markets. Arab-Mexican Carlos Slim is hoping to get a steal for his phone company.

Stage 3 starts tomorrow (November 1st). Improvements in LTE technology like VoLTE and VoWiFI are quickly decreasing the value of the spectrum. In a perfect world, licenses would be assigned to the company that offers the best products at the lowest cost, not the company willing to write the biggest Check to the US treasury.