The FCC has announced that it plans to hold an auction to award construction permits allowing the winners to build new FM radio stations. 131 total channels on which bids can be placed are included in the list of channels to be auctioned – with most being in the state of Texas. The auction is tentatively scheduled to begin on July 23. Working backward, that would mean that initial applications would likely be due sometime in May, and “upfront” payments equal to or greater than the minimum payments for the channels that an applicant ultimately wins in the auction will probably be due in June. To protect these allotments, the FCC has also imposed a freeze on the filing of FM applications that could affect applications for these channels.

The FCC’s freeze on applications that could impact these new stations is in place until the winning bidders file their post-auction applications. No applications or rule-makings can be filed that would request a change in one of these channels, or which would be short-spaced to one of the reference coordinates for these allocations.

If you are interested in starting a station from scratch, look through this list of channels to see if there are opportunities for a construction permit for a new station in an area of interest. If you find something that you might consider, you need to start your due diligence on each channel now, as any bidder is responsible for insuring that the channel for which they are bidding can be built and will serve the audience that you expect. If you win the auction and decide that you can’t really find a transmitter site, then you may well be on the hook for the full amount of the bid even if you don’t build the station. And, if you are successful in the auction, you will have to have an available transmitter site to specify in your “long-form” application submitted about a month after the end of the auction – an application that will specify all of the technical details of the new station. So look at zoning issues, FAA considerations, coverage questions, and even whether technical details like those set out in the rural radio order limiting move-ins of FM stations from rural to more urban areas may limit the potential economic value of the channel in which you are interested.

The Commission also put out for comment its proposed auction procedures. If adopted, these will be the procedures that will be used for this upcoming auction, which the FCC refers to as Auction 98. Comments on these proposed procedures are due by April 1.

While there may be opportunities in the list of available channels, in recent FM auctions there have been a number of channels for which no one has submitted bids, even after the channels were available in several auctions. In the channels listed for this new auction, about 18 are leftovers from previous auctions, either from having been left unsold in a previous auction or cases where the winning bidder defaulted on their post-auction payment obligations. If channels are made available in multiple auctions and not purchased , the FCC will eventually delete these channels.

So potential opportunities for new FM stations are on the horizon. Take a look for channels that might be of interest to you, and start preparing now to file your initial application to participate at some point in the next few months.