eBay for Translators Has Limited Launch

For the last dozen years, a vibrant marketplace has been brewing in the speculation and sale of FM spectrum through the acquisition of translators. FM translator stations have historically been low-power repeater stations that serve to supplement the coverage area of a full-power parent station. Today, translators often operate as wholly stand-alone operations; while they are still fed programming from a parent-station, that parent can be in a completely different market, or running a completely different format on its full-power analog frequency.

The evolution of translators from a secondary to a quasi-primary service has exploded the asking price of translators in markets large and small. The majority of translators (built or unbuilt, with just an FCC construction-permit in hand) regularly sell for five to six figures, and in major markets they can fetch millions of dollars. Translator prices only seem to increase as the amount of fallow FM spectrum in any given market gets more scarce. Read More

Radio Stocks on the Dollar Menu

Many industry-watchers have been fixated on the travails of Cumulus Media, which ousted its founding family earlier this year and replaced them with new management backed by the private-capital firms that now control the company. It hasn’t yet resulted in a massive turnaround for Cumulus stock, which is up about ten cents or so from its lowest low earlier this fall. Still, that values the country’s second largest radio conglomerate at a paltry $82 million and change — you can now pick up a few shares of Cumulus for a dollar and still have change left over for a gumball.

But Cumulus is not the only company now trading under a buck. There’s also Emmis Communications — the primary driver behind the NextRadio application and a major innovator in the HD Radio space — whose shares are now trading at just 62 cents, triggering a delisting warning from NASDAQ. Just three months ago, Emmis stock was worth $1.42 per share; a decade ago, the stock was worth 100 times more than it is today. Read More

FCC Pirate Radio Enforcement Drops to 2004 Levels

This year has been fairly unremarkable regarding the FCC’s unlicensed broadcast efforts: just 111 actions against a few dozen stations across 10 states. However, the overwhelming majority (76%) of enforcement efforts this year have been have been focused on the FM dials of New York and New Jersey. This is a clear sign of the broadcast industry’s active involvement in the enforcement process, acting as a conduit for complaints on which the FCC follows up.

That said, enforcement tactics remain almost wholly administrative. Only five Notices of Apparent Liability totalling $70,000 have been issued this year, while just one fine of $20,000 has been levied against a pirate radio operator. In every case, the FCC built up at least six months’ of evidence; in some instances (particularly involving pirates facing threats of fines in New Jersey), the unlicensed broadcasters have been on the agency’s radar since 2012. Read More

HD Proponents Seek Protection for “No New Spectrum”

An interesting trial-balloon was floated last month in Radio World. In it, John Kean, one of the founding employees of NPR Labs (who was let go in a reshuffle this past August) suggested that the FCC’s spectrum allocation rules be revised to better “protect” FM-HD Radio sideband signals.

Before going any further, it’s best to cover some history. HD Radio was adopted by the FCC in 2000 primarily on the premise that the system used “no new spectrum.” In fact, FM-HD signals double the spectral footprint of FM stations — but HD’s proponents got around this by appropriating fallow spectrum the FCC leaves between stations as the stations’ own allocation. Read More

FCC Facilitated Right-Wing Hit Job on Workers Independent News

A year and a half since I tendered my Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission on its disturbing foray into determining the legitimacy of broadcast news outlets, the agency has finally responded. And it was with a big middle finger: of the more than 4,200 pages of documentation the agency identified as related to the case, the FCC released a paltry 88 (embedded at bottom).

The vast majority of this release is meaningless. It includes copies of the official orders in the WLS sponsorship-identification case, copies of the spot-sales contracts Workers Independent News entered into with WLS (it spent more than $33,000 to air its newscasts and feature programs on the station over a three-month period), official correspondence between the FCC and WLS’ attorneys related to the initial complaint inquiry, and some redacted e-mail correspondence between FCC staffers regarding the collection of the $44,000 fine assessed against WLS.

However, what little useful information gleaned from the disclosure only heightens the suspicion that the sponsorship-identification case against WLS was not motivated by the station’s failure to disclose (in a fraction of instances) that Workers Independent News had paid for its airtime, but rather by a right-wing operative seeking to muzzle Workers Independent News on ideological grounds. Read More