Long-awaited opportunity for AMers now at hand.

If you’re an AM licensee interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to file for an FM translator, get your calendar out: the Media Bureau has announced the dates for the two 2016 “modification windows” during which AM stations will have first dibs on available FM translators. These windows will enable each AM licensee and permittee to acquire and relocate up to 250 miles (for the purpose of rebroadcasting the AM station’s signal) one previously-authorized non-reserved band (i.e., Channels 221-300) FM translator station.

The full Commission adopted the concept of these windows a couple of months ago in its most recent order in the long-running AM Revitalization proceeding. In doing so, it left the humdrum details of implementing the windows to the Bureau – and the Bureau is now taking care of business.

The first modification window will open on January 29, 2016 and close as of 11:59 p.m. (ET) on July 28, 2016. The second will open on July 29, 2016 and close at 5:59 p.m. (ET) on October 31, 2016.

The first modification window will be available only to licensees or permittees of Class C or D AM stations. The second window will be available to any class of AM station. However, any AM station may apply for one and only translator in either of the windows. That is, if you file for one translator in the first modification window, you will not be permitted to file for another in either the first or the second window.

To take advantage of either window, all you’ll need to do will be to file Form 349 proposing minor modification(s) to the translator in question. To be sure that the application is identifiable as a “modification window” application, you will need to specify, in Exhibit 1, that it’s a “250-mile window application”.

The Bureau plans to be tough in its screening of window applications. Doomed to summary dismissal will be any application that proposes, among other things:

  • modification of a reserved channel (i.e., Channels 201-220) translator;
  • as the primary station to be rebroadcast on the translator, an AM station that has already been listed as the primary in a prior Modification Window application (regardless of the window during which it was filed);
  • use of a translator to rebroadcast a Class A or B station if the application is filed during the first modification window.

In its public notice announcing the modification window periods, the Bureau has also included a helpful list of FAQs. Anyone considering filing a modification application should be sure to review those FAQs carefully, as they address a number of questions likely to arise as AM stations gear up to take advantage of the windows.

And as a further helping hand, the Bureau has also announced the availability of two online tools to assist AMers in locating eligible translator stations and identifying rule-compliant FM translator channels. You can find them a www.fcc.gov/media/radio/am-revitalization. One of the tools identifies all authorized translator stations within 250 miles of an AM station’s location. The other lists all the translator channels potentially available at any particular site. These should be useful in the initial quest for possible translator acquisitions. But make no mistake: these are, at best, rough tools designed to get you started. The Bureau recommends – and we second that recommendation that any would-be applicant hook up with an experienced consulting engineer (or other knowledgeable expert) to confirm the technical acceptability of any potential target translator.

Having received its marching orders from the Commission just last October, the Bureau is to be commended for getting the windows ready to roll so quickly, particularly in the midst of the year-end holiday season that tends not to be conducive to maximum productivity. AM licensees should now be able to enjoy that season a little bit more, knowing that, come January, the long-awaited translator windows will begin to open.