Window Brings Surge of Translator Deals

On Friday, the FCC opened a six-month filing window for AM broadcasters to acquire existing FM translators, and move them up to 250 miles into their local coverage areas. This is part of the agency’s AM revitalization initiative — though it’s still not exactly clear how FM spectrum fixes AM’s fundamental difficulties.
This window is exclusive to lower-power AM broadcasters; the large “flamethrower” stations will get a crack at the translator shuffle later this summer, and then the FCC plans to open an application window for new translator stations next year. The marketplace for translators, which has been simmering mightily underground for nearly a decade, has fully burst into the mainstream with the FCC’s blessing.
Nobody’s quite sure how this will affect the sale price of translators. Matt Smith, an AM station owner in North Carolina, reports that prices have skyrocketed in his shopping zone: what once might have sold for $40,000 now fetches five times that much. On the other hand, Michigan AM broadcaster Larry Langford thinks translator sale prices will unwind as we get closer to the end of the window in July.
According to Scott Fybush, one of the nation’s most notable radio-watchers, translator prices generally range between $25,000 and $100,000, with regional variations. He should know: earlier this month Fybush launched, a site through which he brokers sales between translator-owners and AM stations. He’s also already lining up big-station clients who plan to take part in late-summer/early-fall filing window.
Fybush follows in the footsteps of Ronald Unkefer, whose eBay for translators conducted a second auction-round in January. He’s still got more than a dozen listed for sale at “buy it now” prices in the $20-40k range.
More than 400 applications to move FM translator stations up to 250 miles were filed on the first day of the FCC’s current window. Educational Media Foundation is cleaning up big-time, selling 15 translators for a cool $703,500 (average station price: $46,900). One four-station deal cost $400,000, while a single translator in South Carolina sold for $137,500.
Since neither of the FCC windows this year involve the creation of new translators, money is chasing a finite commodity. Markeplace forces would seem to suggest that scarcity only serves to drive prices higher. If this is true, then inflationary trends may become the rule for subsequent filing windows — and speculation in the 2017 window for new translators may be more furious than ever.