Class C-0 FM implementation


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In November 2000 the Commission created a new FM channel classification to join Classes A, B, B1, C, C1, C2 and C3. Use of the new class - Class C-0 (C-Zero) - permits upgrades of existing stations and new allocations based on the reduced spacing protections, which will apply when Class C stations are converted to Class C-0.

FM Class C is designed for regional use by stations operating with 100kW at up to 600 meters (about 2,000 feet) antenna height above average terrain. Since all FM channels are, for allocation purposes, protected to the maximum potential facilities for their class, full Class C channels are treated for interference-protection purposes as if they are being used (or, in the case of vacant channels, will be used) at 100kW/600m.

However, few Class C stations operate with such maximum facilities. Thus, Class C stations have been able to operate at as little as 300 meters and still lay claim to full Class C protection. The Commission decided to recover the resulting unused FM spectrum by creating the intermediate Class C-0.

The creation of the new class has multiple potential effects on existing licensees. Stations operating on full Class C channels with antenna heights of 450 meters or less are subject to downgrading if another station files a channel allotment proposal that would necessitate the downgrading of the existing full Class C station to C-0 status.

Such downgrading is not automatic. The proponent of the downgrading must certify that no alternate channel is available to permit the service it is proposing. The Commission then issues a show cause order directed to the affected Class C licensee, giving it 30 days in which to express, in writing, its intention to seek an upgrade of its facilities to preserve its Class C status. The affected licensee then has 180 days to file an application to increase its height above 450 meters. After approval, the licensee has three years in which to construct its full Class C facilities. The affected licensee could also argue that the initial downgrading proposal does not conform to the rules, or that another channel could be used to achieve the desired result.

The new class may be useful to licensees who see the possibility of improving their facilities or adding a new channel into a desired community. However, a recalcitrant full Class C licensee would likely be able to stall such an effort for several years by availing itself of the procedural rights described above.

Two notes: First, vacant Class C allotments are preserved against reclassification, but pending applications for full Class C allotments that propose antenna heights of 450 meters or less, are being downgraded to Class C-0 status; second, while new rulemaking proposals may invoke Class C-0, counter-proposals filed in response to notices of proposed rulemaking may not rely on Class C-0 possibilities.

NCE commercialization issues

In a September decision by the Enforcement Bureau, the FCC admonished a noncommercial FM station in Alabama for broadcasting commercial matter in violation of Section 399B of the Communications Act, which prohibits the use of underwriting announcements to promote the contributor's products, services or business. Acknowledgments may only include identifying information about the contributor.

The Commission found that language that stated that the sponsor's dealers “usually deal only with America's largest importers” constituted a promotion because it distinguished the underwriter from competitors. Similarly, references to an underwriter's inventory of “name-brand” musical instruments were deemed promotional because the reference casts the product in a favorable light.

Also found to be prohibitively promotional were a reference to an underwriter's having “kept up with changing technology” and a description of a service as “convenient.”

The Commission also noted that the longer it takes in the underwriter announcement to identify the underwriters, the more likely it is that the announcement will be found to be a promotional message.

EEO update

The FCC will not seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the EEO rules that were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia in January. The Commission's position is that it will try to revise its earlier rules to meet the concerns of the Court. That proceeding, however, has not yet begun. While two public interests have filed appeals on their own, the chances that the Supreme Court will take the case without the FCC's participation are very slim.


Harry Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC., Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.

Dateline

February 1, 2002 is the deadline for biennial ownership reports for broadcast stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma.




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