During his June 18 Senate confirmation hearing for the position of Federal Communications Commission chairman, presidential nominee Tom Wheeler said it is “absolutely crucial” for the federal government to maintain its intended schedule for spectrum incentive auctions.
As broadcasters and their representatives prepare for the FCC’s upcoming auction of television broadcast spectrum, public TV’s top lobbyist is proceeding with the view that it presents more opportunity for the field than a threat.
The licensee of KJZZ and KBAQ in Phoenix has asked the FCC for temporary permission to sidestep the agency’s rules governing language in underwriting announcements in a test of whether “enhanced” sponsor messages could boost income. In a March 18 letter to the FCC, the Maricopa County Community College District proposed a three-year trial window “to conduct a limited and controlled demonstration project to test a modified loosening of the Commission’s enhanced underwriting policies.” Under the looser rules, KBAQ and KJZZ would air announcements that include:
“factually accurate information concerning interest rates available at underwriter banks, credit unions, automobile dealerships, and other local businesses”;
notification of sales and special events such as discounts and promotions; and
qualitative adjectives based on factual data, such as “certified,” “accredited,” “award-winning,” “experienced” or “long-established.”
During this experimental phase, the stations would monitor listener satisfaction and revenue resulting from the enhanced announcements. If sales rose and listeners accepted the new language without complaint, other public radio stations could adopt the looser rules as well, the college district suggested. In the letter, submitted by communications attorney Ernie Sanchez, the college district cited the need to experiment as stations grapple with cuts in state funding, declines in underwriting revenue and the possible elimination of federal support for public broadcasting. “Could public radio stations remain financially viable, even with diminished federal funding, if the guidelines were simply relaxed or — expressed another way — enhanced somewhat more than previous levels?” the letter asked.
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.