Wheeler to Move on AM Aid Proposal

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler signaled Monday he will take steps to clear away outdated regulations and help resolve interference issues, at least when it comes to AM radio broadcasters, and the localism that is the "heart and soul" of broadcasting.

In a blog post that came on the opening day of the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, Wheeler said in the "coming weeks" he would be concluding the AM Radio Revitalization Proceeding, begun by former chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, with a Report and Order that would, among other things, "give stations more flexibility in choosing site locations, complying with local zoning requirements, obtaining power increases, and incorporating energy-efficient technologies."

TV broadcasters have been asking the FCC to clear away some of the legacy regs that they argue make it hard for them, and to insure their interference issues are dealt with.

The NPRM proposed opening an exclusive FM translator window for AM licensees to expand the quality of their signal by rebroadcasting on FM, but Wheeler said he has two concerns about that. First, whether there are enough translators, and second, why if a window is opened, it should be confined to AM only.

The chairman will also launch a new NPRM seeking input on more changes including "proposing to permit stations serving smaller communities to expand their limited day and nighttime service areas while fully protecting larger, Class-A stations’ core service areas," said Wheeler. "As a result, these smaller market stations will be better able to overcome environmental interference.  The Notice will also seek input on whether and how to open up the expanded AM band."

"The Commission should eliminate unnecessary rules that impair stations’ ability to serve their listeners," said Wheeler, "and we should encourage a diversity of voices however we can. My proposal does both, and I hope my fellow Commissioners will support it."

Wheeler is expected to talk about the AM item in his speech at NAB Wednesday (April 15).

Commissioner Ajit Pai, who has had some recent disagreements with the chairman over network neutrality, municipal broadband and more, was on the same page when it came to releasing the AM item, so long as it was the right item.

"I applaud Chairman Wheeler’s announcement that he intends to circulate an item addressing AM revitalization in the coming weeks and look forward to reviewing it," said Pai. "In this item, the Commission must provide immediate, short-term help to AM broadcasters and tee up for comment additional ideas to help secure the long-term future of the band. AM revitalization is a cause that has garnered widespread support from large and small broadcasters, civil rights organizations, Democrats, and Republicans. Moreover, there is nearly unanimous support in the record for the ideas put forward by the Commission under Acting Chairwoman Clyburn’s leadership. I hope that we will move forward on these proposals in the next couple of months."

"NAB is grateful Chairman Wheeler has announced plans to circulate an item to his FCC colleagues designed to revitalize AM radio," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton following the announcement. "AM broadcasters have uniquely served local communities for nearly 100 years. The time is ripe for the FCC to follow through on the tremendous efforts of Commissioners Clyburn and Pai so that AM broadcasters can continue to play a vital role in the fabric of our nation. We look forward to working with the Chairman and the Commissioners to help ensure the item ultimately adopted serves the American public in the best manner possible."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.