Nevada and Wyoming TV stations propose to pack up, head east

Two small television stations have notified the FCC that they prefer the more populous environs of Delaware and New Jersey (their licensee’s home for more than 30 years) to the wide open spaces of Nevada and Wyoming. And, strange as it may seem, the law is on their side. 

PMCM TV, LLC, a company privately owned by a group of radio (and former TV) operators from New Jersey, has notified the Commission that PMCM is agreeable to moving its two TV stations – KVNV, Ely, Nevada, and KJWY, Jackson, Wyoming – to Middletown Township, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, respectively. The basis for the move? A section of the Communications Act brought to PMCM’s attention by its lawyers – Fletcher Heald & Hildreth – that specifically orders the Commission to bless a proposal such as this.

Some background here for the uninitiated.

When the FCC first doled out television channels, two states – New Jersey and Delaware – got short-changed as far as commercial VHF allotments were concerned. Neither state got any commercial VHF’s. Recognizing the inequity, in 1982 Congress enacted Section 331(a) of the Communications Act.  With clarity unusual in Federal legislation, that section mandates that it “shall” be the FCC’s policy to allocate commercial VHF TV channels so that “not less than one such channel shall be allocated to each State, if technically feasible.”   And if a commercial VHF licensee notifies the FCC that the licensee is willing to have its channel reallocated to a community in a commercial VHF-less state, then the Commission “shall” (there’s that mandatory word again) order the reallocation and grant the requesting licensee a new license.

The technical feasibility condition kept Delaware from obtaining any local VHF channels in the intervening 27 years because of the need to protect stations in nearby Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.   But New Jersey lucked out early on. In 1983, the owners of New York station WOR(TV), then on VHF Channel 9, were embroiled in a difficult license renewal contest. Taking advantage of Section 331, they asked the FCC to reallocate their channel from NYC to Secaucus, New Jersey. Bingo – their renewal problem went away, and New Jersey at last had its commercial VHF TV allocation.

Fast forward to 2009.  The FCC has since re-shuffled the allocation of TV channels across the United States in anticipation of the conversion from analog to digital transmissions. Unaccountably, in setting up the DTV table of allotments, the FCC again didn’t allot any commercial VHF channels to New Jersey or Delaware, despite the 1982 Congressional directive to do so. This meant that once the old Secaucus station moved from Channel 9 to its new home on DTV Channel 38, New Jersey would once again be bereft of a commercial VHF station, while Delaware would remain a bridesmaid in the commercial VHF station allotment process.

PMCM and Fletcher Heald realized that Section 331(a) could be used as a vehicle to fill the upcoming vacancy in the New Jersey allotment scheme, and at the same time bring a commercial VHF station to Delaware for the first time. So PMCM went out and bought the Ely (population 4,040) and Jackson (population 9,038) stations. As soon as the DTV transition was complete, PMCM notified the FCC that it was agreeable to moving its two stations to serve Middletown Township and Wilmington, respectively, and would the FCC please issue it a license right away as required by Section 331? (You can read PMCM’s notifications here.)  The move would provide new local TV service to Middletown Township and Monmouth County, which have over 600,000 inhabitants but no local TV stations, not to mention Wilmington, which has another 72,000 people and only one local commercial (UHF) TV station.

The proposed moves don’t mean that Ely and Jackson will necessarily lose their allotments. Operation of KVNV and KJWY in Middletown Township and Wilmington will not technically foreclose continued use of Channels 3 and 2, respectively, in Ely and Jackson. That means that the Commission should be able easily to re-allocate those channels back to those communities; it could also grant interim operating authority to some deserving entity – perhaps the kind of “eligible entity” that the Commission has been seeking to promote through its diversification initiatives – pending selection of a final licensee. PMCM has indicated that it will be happy to cooperate in a hand-off to its successor(s) in Ely and Jackson. In addition, PMCM has offered to continue to provide low power TV service to Ely from its translator/LPTV station in that market.

The FCC has yet to react to PMCM’s proposal, but if the FCC goes by the book, Delaware will for the first time have its very own full power commercial VHF station, and New Jersey will have its full power commercial VHF restored.