Native tribes in New Mexico and Arizona are the first to benefit from the FCC’s Tribal Radio Priority, a provision created by the commission to help tribal entities start new radio stations. The FCC announced March 1 that it set aside FM allotments for Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, N.M., and for the Hualapai Tribe in Peach Springs, Ariz. Allotments serve as placeholders for future FM stations; the tribes must now wait until the FCC opens a filing window and accepts their applications for construction permits. The commission created the Tribal Radio Priority provision in 2010, establishing standards by which Native tribes could be given priority in securing licenses for AM and FM stations. “The need for Tribal radio stations is clear,” wrote Geoffrey Blackwell, chief of the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy, in a blog post announcing the allotments.
For the last few years, three well-funded buyout firms have been quietly picking up licenses to commercial and noncommercial TV stations in a gamble on big payouts from next year’s FCC incentive auction of television spectrum. Current’s research of FCC license applications filed since 2010 found at least 25 separate deals involving three firms: OTA Broadcasting, NRJ TV and LocusPoint Networks. The stations they’ve acquired to date are on the peripheries of major markets, primarily ranging from Boston to Washington, D.C., in the eastern U.S. and from Seattle down to Los Angeles along the West Coast. The three firms are all owned or funded by private equity firms that command billions in assets. Due to vagaries in the FCC’s reporting requirements, it’s likely that the commission’s records provide an incomplete picture of the companies’ purchases.
The FCC adopted new rules today regarding low-power FM stations, paving the way to accept a wave of applications for new LPFMs in October 2013. Under the rules, the FCC will allow LPFMs on second-adjacent frequencies to full-power FM stations if the low-power applicant provides evidence that the new station will not cause interference. These second-adjacency waivers will allow for more low-power stations in big cities where the FM band is more crowded. Other provisions of the Report and Order adopted today include:
A modified point system that will give an edge to Native applicants and to LPFMs with a staffed main studio and local programming;
Permission of cross-ownership of an LPFM station and up to two translator stations;
And an allowance for tribal nations to operate more than one LPFM. The Prometheus Radio Project, which advocates for low-power radio, estimates that the number of LPFMs in America could double or triple after the next filing window.
Two foundations will back capacity-building for Koahnic Broadcast Corp., the public media nonprofit that operates KNBA in Anchorage, Alaska, and Native Voice One, the New Mexico-based producer and distributor of national shows Native America Calling and National Native News, among others. The grants, totaling $375,000, are intended to strengthen Koahnic’s Native radio programming, marketing and distribution services. The Ford Foundation committed $300,000 to the initiative over three years, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation provided the balance in a one-year grant, according to Jaclyn Sallee, Koahnic president. Koahnic and Native Voice One serve a growing but economically fragile field of tribal stations. They added 11 new affiliates over the past year and anticipate more new tribal stations in Louisiana, Idaho and New York, according to the grant announcement.
The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the Ninth Circuit Court to reconsider its April decision that a federal law banning public television and radio stations from running political advertising was unconstitutional. In its June 29 filing, the Justice Department argued that the finding “threatens the fundamental nature of public broadcasting.”
In Minority Television Project v. FCC, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit voted 2-1 to overturn the ban in the case brought by the longtime licensee of noncommercial San Francisco station KMTP-TV (Current, April 23). The Justice Department’s appeal to the full court argues that that the panel majority “applied erroneous legal standards and misinterpreted the record” to reach their conclusion. “Federal law has consistently precluded public television licensees from airing paid advertisements,” the Justice Department’s filing contends. “The reasons for this are straightforward and uncontested: public broadcasters provide educational programming (particularly high-quality children’s programming) that is not available on commercial stations and subjecting public stations to advertisers’ market pressures would undermine their ability to provide such programming.”
The FCC took another step March 19 toward licensing more low-power FM stations, a move long advocated by community radio leaders. The agency will work through a backlog of thousands of applications for FM translators under a new system that it formally adopted, modifying a proposal floated last summer (Current, July 25, 2011). The pending translator apps must be processed before any new LPFM licenses can be awarded. The commission will toss out FM translator apps in larger markets to make way for LPFMs in those areas while continuing to process requests for translators in less-populous areas. Applicants can seek no more than 50 translator licenses nationwide, a new limitation cracking down on speculative filings seen in the past (Current, March 28, 2005).
The FCC is officially ending its viewability rule, which required cable operators with analog/digital systems to deliver must-carry TV stations in both formats, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Broadcasters wanted the FCC to extend the requirement another three years, but the cable industry backed the FCC proposal to sunset the rule. Cable operators must still provide dual carriage for a six-month transition period and give customers 90 days' warning before ending analog transmissions. If too many consumers complain, the FCC may reinstate the requirement.The National Association of Broadcasters "remains concerned" that the decision "has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source for minority, religious and independent program diversity across America," said Dennis Wharton, NAB spokesperson. Those stations had protested the end of analog signals.
The FCC closed its investigation of a management agreement between the University of San Francisco and the Los Angeles–based Classical Public Radio Network June 7 after each of the parties agreed to pay the federal government $25,000 as part of a consent decree.