The number of stations on the AM dial continues to slide. The latest census from the Federal Communications Commission shows the number of AM stations licensed at midyear declined by 13 compared to the end of March. And during the past year the total number of AMs licensed fell by another one percent, or 37 stations.
The pandemic impact on the FM dial has not been as severe – the drop was about a half percent. Nevertheless, there are 25 fewer licensed commercial FMs as of June 30 compared to a year ago. Still, while AM numbers have consistently trended downward quarter after quarter in recent years, the pandemic’s effects seem to be waning as the FCC count of commercial FMs remained basically steady between the end of first and second quarter of the year.
Further suggesting the pandemic may have had a hand in commercial declines, is FCC data that shows noncommercial FM numbers climbed during the past year. There were 4,214 as of March 31. That was an increase of 17 compared to a year ago.
The number of commercial FMs may soon begin growing once again as the FCC holds its first FM auction since 2015 later this month. The FCC will auction 136 FM construction permits during Auction 109 scheduled to begin on July 27.
Broadcasters have also continued to invest in FM translator during the past year despite leaner revenue, often times as a way to help an AM survive. The FCC reports the total number of FM translators and boosters jumped four percent during the past year. As of June 30, there were 8,614 or 311 more than a year earlier. That includes 93 more translators and boosters that were licensed during the second quarter.
Low-power FM numbers were unchanged during the past three months, with 2,093 licensed LFPMs as of June 30. That is however a decrease of 53 compared to one year ago. The FCC data shows two percent of all LPFMs ceased to exist during the pandemic.
As Inside Radio has previously reported, the number of low-power stations could start to grow again during the next few years. The FCC has said it plans to open a new LPFM filing window, but that is not expected until later this year, at the earliest, once Auction 106 is completed. There’s also the pending completion of the repack of television stations, and a July 2021 sunset of low-power television operations that first need to be completed.
Beyond radio, the Media Bureau reports the total number of full-power television stations held steady with 1,757 licensed at the end of June, a drop of one versus the end of March. The latest FCC data shows the total amount of low-power TV stations was the same – 1,985.
Overall, there were a total of 33,559 radio and television licenses issued by the FCC as of June 30.