October 3, 2003

Educational FM Radio Alert

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Charles R. Naftalin

On September 30, 2003, the Federal Communications Commission issued a public notice establishing a filing “window,” until November 21, 2003, during which qualified petitioners may seek authority to construct noncommercial educational FM radio stations. 

During this period of time, interested parties may submit “reservation showings” to obtain FM channels for new noncommercial educational stations to operate in the commercial FM radio band.  Such parties typically are educational institutions and religious organizations.  The Commission has made almost 500 currently vacant FM channels available nationwide.  Those channels are distributed across hundreds of communities in forty-four of the United States and its territories.  There are a number of substantial showings that every petitioner for these channels must make as part of its submission. 

Historically, educational institutions interested in establishing noncommercial FM radio stations generally have been confined to the “reserved” portion of the FM frequency band, which is the lower twenty channels on the dial (87.9 MHz to 91.9 MHz).  This new window filing opportunity makes hundreds of vacant channel allocations among the eighty commercial FM frequencies (92.1 MHz to 107.9 MHz) available to educators for their stations.  Obviously, this dramatically expands access to FM radio for colleges, universities and school systems, subject to demonstrating to the FCC that reserved channels are not available and that local populations have limited or no noncommercial educational service.  This noncommercial educational FM filing window is a first of its kind, and possibly a unique opportunity.  There is no certainty that the FCC will pursue an approach like this again.

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