The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to open the door for applications for 689 new FM radio stations across the nation, and officials predicted the decision would produce "a leap in the number of minority-owned FM facilities."
"We are taking a major step forward in providing more choice for the American public," FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler said, explaining that preferences will be given to minority applicants and to owners of certain AM radio stations.
Thousands of applications for the new FM stations are anticipated, and the first station conceivably could be on the air as early as August, officials said. New stations will be available in 47 California communities, including Bakersfield, Chowchilla, Hanford, Lindsay, Modesto, Oxnard, Sacramento, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sebastopol and Visalia.
The issue has been a contentious one because of the FCC's interest in giving some special preferences to owners of AM stations that operate primarily during daylight hours.
James C. McKinney, chief of the FCC's mass media bureau, said the commissioners felt that daytime stations were entitled to such preferences because they have operated under adverse financial and technical conditions for a number of years. Daytime radio stations generally operate between sunrise and sunset and in the winter months cannot broadcast during peak late afternoon and evening hours, a prime advertising time.
Some critics have argued that the preferences could favor incumbent AM-station broadcasters over minority applicants--thereby undermining the FCC's goal to increase diversity and competition in broadcasting.
But FCC officials maintained the preferences would assure that a significant number of the new FM stations will be awarded to minorities.
Breakdown in Ownership
According to the National Assn. of Broadcasters, there were 84 AM and 47 FM black-owned radio stations as of last August; 29 AM and seven FM Latino-owned radio stations; three AM and two FM stations owned by Native Americans and one AM and one FM Asian-owned stations. According to the FCC, as of last January there were 4,772 commercial AM radio stations on the air and 3,743 FM stations.
The 689 new FM facilities will operate on 80 commercial FM channels, and each channel includes stations for seven to 10 communities. Next month the FCC will use a lottery to assign a number to each of the 80 channels and then will consider the applications in order. FCC officials predict it will take three years to assign all the stations.