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 Monday, viewers of two television stations in Montana were treated to an Emergency Alert System prank. During a daytime schlock talk show, the EAS system went off at the stations and a message was heard that "the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living." The zombie apocalypse warning prompted a handful of quizzical calls to public safety officials, but no mass panic.
Today, we learned that this EAS hack was not a localized event. Public and commercial television stations in Michigan apparently broadcast the same warning; Radio World reported that other television and radio stations around the country also discovered the message in their EAS systems and some were able to prevent it from airing.
A paragraph in the FCC’s annual performance report for fiscal year 2012 suggests the agency is on the warpath against unlicensed broadcasters:
The FCC shut down hundreds of pirate broadcast operations, which threaten the integrity of the nation’s communications infrastructure and caused interference to licensed broadcasters, air traffic control frequencies, and other public safety communications. There were $289,000 in penalties and 583 warnings issued during FY 2012.
Specious claims of the pirate threat aside, these numbers were quickly parroted by the Clear Channel-owned trade publication Inside Radio as evidence of a "pirate crackdown confirmed." But there’s no data to back up these claims.
This week, radio industry muckraker Jerry Del Colliano published a blog post announcing his acquisition of a "secret memo" from Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman to executive staff. The details of the memo itself are hidden behind Del Colliano’s blog paywall, but the preview is worth a gander.
Reportedly, the memo is entitled "Expanding iHeartRadio onto the Terrestrial Platform" and outlines exactly how the broadcast conglomerate plans to do this. It is unclear from the preview just what the plans are, but it definitely signals that Clear Channel aims to use its iHeartRadio streaming platform as a primary content provider to some (if not most or all) of the company’s radio stations. The Pittman plan also reportedly suggests that iHeartRadio will become the company’s "main source of revenue" in the process.
In 2009, the Federal Communications Commission promulgated rules allowing AM radio stations to utilize FM translators to supplement their coverage areas. The original intent was to help "beleaguered" stations, like those that must dramatically reduce their power at night, or suffer from increased interference (from a variety of causes, including consumer electronics, traffic signals, and HD Radio sidebands).
As of today, many AM stations have taken advantage of this rule to supplement their signals with some 400 FM translator simulcasts.
But some broadcasters that are far from "beleaguered" have hopped on the translator bandwagon. These include WLW, a 50,000-watt station in Cincinnati owned by Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest broadcast conglomerate.