Kudos to Matthew Lasar for unearthing an ex parte gem from the FCC files. Clear Channel’s top engineering executive and chief lobbyist had a sit-down with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai earlier this month in which they covered a wide range of issues related to the state of AM broadcasting. Pai is pushing for an "AM Revitalization Initiative" at the FCC, which would consider several ideas related to finding sustainability for the nation’s oldest broadcast band.
On the notion of an all-digital AM transition, Clear Channel’s Jeff Littlejohn – who is also a member of iBiquity Digital Corporation’s Board of Directors – was not enthusiastic, calling it "challenging" to set a date for an analog/digital switchover given the lack of listener enthusiasm for HD Radio and the massive amount of money it would cost all broadcasters to adopt the technology.
However, Clear Channel’s stated position on AM’s "migration" to FM is of greater concern. Clear Channel supports the idea of re-appropriating analog TV channels 5 and 6 for FM broadcasting, which would provide an opportunity for AM stations to exchange their licenses for FM ones. In the interim,
Mr. Littlejohn noted Clear Channel’s endorsement of opportunities for AM stations to apply for new FM translators, both during an AM licensee-only filing window prior to an LPFM window and on an on-going basis…as AM stations transition to digital broadcasts and/or other spectrum.
It’s unseemly for a company the likes of Clear Channel, which already owns 850 full-power radio stations, to ask for another bite at what FM spectrum remains before LPFM gets a chance to expand – an struggle that took 10 years to achieve. The company’s already amassed several dozen translators under its belt over the last decade.
LPFM proponents would be wise to keep a wary eye on the FCC between now and October, when the next LPFM filing window is expected to open.
In an interview with Radio Ink last month, Pai said the timeline for actually making his AM initiative happen may be slipping. "Being the currently junior-most Commissioner at the FCC, I don’t get to set the agenda….In the meantime, the best we can do is try to persuade our colleagues to keep working with folks on the outside." With only three sitting Commissioners at present, there’s little chance of anything substantive taking place until those open seats are filled, which is expected to happen later this summer.