Question: When is a daytime-only AM station not a daytime-only AM station?
Answer: When it manages to get an STA that permits it to rebroadcast its programming on an FM translator.
Over the last six-nine months, the Commission has issued a number of STA’s permitting AM stations to rebroadcast on FM translators. These STA’s have been largely – no, wait, completely – unheralded. The FCC has issued no public notices about them, no public releases about them, no nothing. A quick glance at CDBS indicates that the fact that an STA request has been filed does not necessarily even show up in an "Applications" search, so it may be impossible to tell how many such requests have been filed, let alone how many have been granted.
We have tracked down a few, though. You can view them here:
The first two (issued in January and February, 2007) are justified on the basis of apparent expansion of the stations’ respective communities of license and unspecified technical impediments. One refers vaguely to "technical restraints imposed on [the station’s] AM operation". The other is not much more specific, citing "interference from numerous sources adversely affecting the AM signal."
While those two letters are hardly models of detailed explication, they at least provide some justification for the STA’s. But the most recent we have found doesn’t even get that far. That STA, granted in July, 2007, simply indicates that the licensee stated that it "is unable to provide a nighttime signal because of its authorized hours of operation." This, of course, should not come as much of a surprise because the station is a daytimer, with no nighttime operating authority.
Still, the Commission granted the STA, based on this less-than-enlightening analysis: "Having given the proposal thorough consideration, we find that the Public Interest would be served by grant of [the] request."
The take-home message of the FCC’s "analysis" seems to be that any nighttime-only station should qualify for an STA to rebroadcast on an FM translator, since every nighttime-only station suffers precisely the same "inability to provide a nighttime signal because of its authorized hours of operation".
Of course, the notion of rebroadcast of a daytime-only station on an FM translator raises at least one major conceptual issue: exactly what programming is the translator broadcasting at night? If the source station – i.e., the AM – is not authorized to operate at night, and if the translator is operating at night (and such operation is presumably to be expected, since that’s the reason the STA appears to have been granted in the first place), then where is the translator getting the signal which it is supposedly translating? Does this mean that the translator is authorized to originate programming?
We may find out more about such questions if and when the FCC releases the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rule Making in which the Commission is expected to propose amending its rules to permit AMers to use FM translators. But with the continuing flow of STA’s authorizing such use, there does not appear to be much pressure on the Commission to issue the NPRM.