The market for FM translators reached a new peak recently when a two-watt translator sited on the Willis Tower in Chicago sold for $4.6 million. Who made the killing? Calvary Radio Network, the de facto Midwest representative of the Calvary Chapel godcast franchise.
The new owner of W264BF, Elroy Smith, has FCC authorization to jack the translator’s power up to 10 whole watts if he chooses. Broadcasting from what once was the world’s tallest building will make for great coverage. But at $460,000 per watt? Valuations that crazy haven’t been seen since the post-Telecom Act consolidation frenzy. Rarely do full-power AM radio stations sell for that much.
There could be another injection of energy into the translator marketplace before the end of the year. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has been making noise about his AM Revitalization Initiative and wants to see the FCC do something on that front sooner rather than later. Thus we may see an application window for new FM translators as soon as the agency has sorted the latest wave of LPFM licensees.
In many respects, this may be the last gasp for speculative profiteering in FM broadcast spectrum…at least until FM gets repurposed for a use other than broadcasting.