Details of what was applied for during the just-closed FM translator filing period aren’t yet being made public by the Federal Communications Commission. But FCC chief Ajit Pai says demand for translators remains strong. “Over one thousand AM stations took advantage of it,” Pai announced on Thursday. He calls the window “another significant milestone” in the agency’s ongoing effort to revitalize AM radio, especially by giving many stations their first 24-hour signals.
“The success of this window follows on the great success of the two cross-service FM translator modification windows that were opened in 2016,” Pai said. “Together, these translator windows will help AM broadcasters continue to play a part in our competitive media landscape as the FCC continues to address the unique technical challenges involving AM radio.”
The first FM translator filing window was for Class C and D AM stations. A second window will be opened later this year for all AMs. Those dates have not yet been announced, although it’s likely to be just as brief as the just-completed seven-day window.
A key stipulation for both windows is only stations that didn’t take part in either of last year’s translator windows will be permitted to participate. In both windows any competing bids for a translator that can’t be resolved during a yet-to-be-announced settlement window will then go to the now-standard competitive bidding process as part of Auction 99.
“One would think that this will happen principally in spectrum-congested markets where there are multiple AM stations eligible for the auction, but few available channels for translators,” attorney David Oxenford wrote in a blog post. “But we will all just have to wait and see what the list of mutually exclusive applications looks like when the FCC releases it sometime in the coming weeks.”
It’s been eight years since the FCC began allowing AM stations to simulcast on FM translators and the result is there are 21% more translators licensed today than when that decision was made in June 2009. There’s little doubt interest in translators has continued to surge during the past year. The FCC reports the number of licensed translators and boosters has jumped 9.3% compared to a year ago with 7,453 translators and boosters licensed as of June 30.
And yet demand continues to push up prices. S&P Global Market Intelligence says the average price paid for a translator during the first half of this year was $142,000 compared to an average $72,000 paid in 2016. The biggest-ticket translator sale in U.S. radio history was filed earlier this year when Hubbard Radio agreed to pay $1.8 million for the Phoenix-licensed translator.