LPFM and FM translators given new latitude


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Recently, the FCC has gone well beyond its rules in allowing a pirate FM station to operate an LPFM station legally under a special temporary authorization (STA). It did so by authorizing the assignment of what the rules say is unassignable — namely, an LPFM station — to an entirely new entity. In addition, in apparent anticipation of a rulemaking covering this subject matter, the FCC permitted at least a few AM stations to use FM translators to overcome signal deficiency problems.

Pirate operator legalized. In June 2006 the FCC began proceedings to shut down a pirate FM station in Goldfield, NV. The pirate operator, faced with enforcement action, went off the air. But in December, the pirate filed a request for an STA. The “mission statement” included in the STA request said the station's purpose, if approved, would be to promote the Goldfield area's history, which the applicant said was nationally significant, and to warn the local population of the dangers of fires and floods. The applicant also said it would provide information about road conditions, local law enforcement, school activities and programming geared to the area's elderly.

The STA was granted a month later in spite of an FCC rule (Section 73.854) that denies eligibility for LPFM authorizations to anyone who “has engaged in any manner…in the unlicensed operation of any station” in violation of the Communications Act. Here, the applicant had been engaged, at least until getting caught, in just such an unlicensed operation. What got the STA approved was a supportive letter to the FCC from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

This case has caused considerable criticism of the FCC, needless to say. The commission has always been subject to political influence — as an agency created and funded by Congress, this is to be expected — but a blatant rule override to accommodate a politically connected illegal operator is discouraging to the honest broadcasters, particularly those who operate LPFM stations, who take the rules seriously and, in return, expect the FCC to do so as well.

LPFM transfer approved. The FCC has been granting transfer and assignment applications for LPFM stations even though Section 73.865 of the rules prohibits such transactions. Under a waiver policy developed by the Audio Division, transfers or assignments to new owners now may be approved if three conditions are met: (1) there is no profit being realized (2) the buyer is a local entity and (3) the buyer has no other broadcast interests, including no other LPFMs and no FM translators. In a recent decision the FCC extended its waiver policy to allow the assignment of even unbuilt construction permits.

AM stations get FM translators. After intervention by Congressman John Spratt (D-SC), chairman of the House Banking Committee, station WRHI, Rock Hill, SC, was recently granted authority to broadcast its signal on an FM translator. In apparent anticipation of the rulemaking being promoted by the NAB, the FCC has granted at least one other such waiver in recent weeks.


Dateline

Radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming must file their biennial ownership reports by June 1.

Also by June 1, radio stations in the following states must place their annual EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: Arizona, DC, Idaho, New Mexico, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.


Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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