Applications to participate in the auction of 144 new FM channels are to be filed at the FCC between January 31 and February 10, 2011. The FCC today released a Public Notice setting out the dates and procedures to be used in the auction. Upfront payments of the minimum bids for channels in the auction will be due on March 21. The auction itself will begin on April 27 - a postponement of about a month from the dates originally proposed as the initially scheduled dates could have resulted in the auction running through this year's NAB Convention, making it difficult for some entities to participate. We had written about the initial announcement of the proposed auction here. Note that the list of channels available in the auction has changed slightly, as a few channels originally listed for sale were deleted when it was discovered that they were not vacant or were otherwise not available to be sold. Thus, the auction will include only 144 channels, not the 147 originally proposed. The list of open channels is available here, and this list also sets out the minimum bids established for each channel.

To freeze the FCC database so as to allow applicants in the filing window to specify a transmitter site that will be protected from new applications, the FCC will freeze the filing of all applications for minor changes to existing FM stations during the filing window. Thus, if you need a technical change in an FM station, get that application on file before the January 31-February 10 window. The FCC Issued a Public Notice setting out the details of the freeze. After the window, all subsequently filed applications for minor changes in existing stations will need to protect sites specified for the new channels during the window. The FCC also froze - effective right now - any rulemaking proposal asking for a change in the coordinates assigned to any of the channels to be sold in the auction.

So, if you have always wanted your own FM station, now may be the time to apply. For the most part, these channels are not in major metropolitan areas - though some do reach some fairly sizable communities. Do your diligence carefully before applying, as there may be problems with some channels that limit their use. In fact, some of these channels are ones that have been returned to the FCC - either from prior auctions where no one bid for them, or as a result of a construction permit that expired when it was not constructed in a timely fashion. Look for the hidden gems!