Published on Monday, 20 September 2010 16:48
Low power television stations nationwide have been given notice that big changes are coming soon. It may also mean the end to those stations on analog channel 6 that also operate as commercial radio stations on the low end of FM radio dial.
The notice, which was drafted on Friday, is 30 pages long and covers many points. A PDF of the entire notice can be downloaded by clicking HERE
With all full power television stations already converted to digital over a year ago, the FCC felt it was now time to address the situations involving all forms of the low power stations, including Class As and translators.
The FCC notice spotlights seven key areas that are under consideration:
- The FCC is looking at setting a deadline date to terminate all low powered analog stations. The date currently being considered will be on or around June 16, 2012.
- The FCC is considering having all television stations in the 700 MHz band (channels 52 through 69) to cease operations or moved by a December 31, 2011 deadline.
- The FCC wants to delegate to their Media Bureau oversight of LPTVs that want to "flash cut" quickly to digital transmissions.
- The FCC is considering amending rules to allow having LPTVs be subject to the same 5% fee on subscription services that full power stations are subject to.
- The FCC is considering changing a rule covering LPTV's transmissions to a maximum of 30 miles from the transmitting antenna.
- Additionally, they are looking at revising LPTV's vertical antenna patterns.
- The FCC is also looking at allowing LPTVs to use the same emission mask currently used by full power television stations.
Low power television station owners will have 60 days to deliver to the FCC their comments/concerns on the proposals.
Very little of what was contained with that official notice comes as a surprise. LPTVs were told over a year ago to be ready to convert to digital stations within three years. This plan goes along with that earlier warning.
What does this mean for Chicago? More than anything else, it could mean the end of WLFM-LP -- or at least the end of the station as we currently know it. Chicago's Smooth Jazz station could no longer be a VHF simulcast for Channel 6 and be a "virtual" radio station. When the analog LPTV transmissions end, that FCC loophole disappears.
It doesn't have to be the end of the station, though. The owners of WLFM would have to petition the FCC to become a traditional commercial radio station. It would most likely mean a move to a different frequency, by purchasing a station that may go for sale in the next year or so, or by leasing an existing frequency. There would be other options available to them as well, depending on FCC decisions in the next 12-18 months.
87.7 Chicago's Smooth Jazz has built a large following in a very rapid amount of time and done so truly from scratch. On May 22, 2009, Clear Channel Radio killed the Smooth Jazz format on 95.5 WNUA-FM. A matter of hours later, Channel 6/87.7 WLFM-LP picked up the format and a new station was born in Chicago. Pat Kelley, the station's Senior Vice President and General Manager, was WNUA's General Sales Manager and knew quite well the viability of a Smooth Jazz format in Chicago. It is very much both fan & advertiser friendly. A few months later, WLFM brought aboard WNUA's heart & soul, Program Director & personality Rick O'Dell and the new station really took off. Other WNUA veterans including Loni Taylor & Bill Cochran have since joined WLFM. Many new local shows have been created & added, as well. Even with its limited ability to reach all of the Chicago market, the station still has pulled in very impressive Arbitron radio ratings, even beating out the former home of Smooth Jazz, WNUA-FM in certain key demographics.
The start-up station has had its fair share of challenges, but seems to have been able to find ways to overcoming them. This proposed FCC deadline of less than two years from now is just another hurdle for the station to get past.