This is the General History Section of
The Broadcast Archive
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
THE CLEAR-CHANNEL MATTER
is the fourth
in a series of 6 articles about the history of clear-channel AM radio stations.
Once past the 1941 North American Regional Broadcasting
Agreement, or NARBA, the FCC began to focus on ways to provide better nighttime
radio coverage of under served “white areas.”
The choice seemed simple but dramatic: Add duplicate stations on the AM
clear channels, or authorize existing 1-A stations to operate with power in
excess of 50 kW
, in an attempt to provide solid service over wider areas.
(The FCC still refused to include FM in its coverage calculations.)
Imagine the hullabaloo in Washington! In one ring,
communications engineers and lobbyists asserting that additional stations on the
clears would create interference that would “destroy a national asset”.
On the other side were the folks who wanted an end to what they called
the “monopoly” and “unfair advantage” held by clear-channel
broadcasters. In the middle were beleaguered commissioners who, in the view of
many staffers, weren’t tuned into the issues but were noted for being
responsive to political pressure.
Absent the hard data needed to make a defensible decision,
the FCC continued its “trial balloon” approach to resolving the
clear-channel matter. In 1958 the FCC proposed new Class II stations on 23 of
the clear channels (660 and 770 were already considered duplicated). At this
same time, the FCC asked the 1-A stations to make their case for super-power in
excess of 50 kW “if it were authorized.”
Among those responding was WCCO, which filed comments and a complete
engineering exhibit in support of 750 kW. They planned to directionalize west
from Minneapolis on 830, and said this would provide significant white-area
coverage gain not available through the FCC’s other proposed solutions.
(WCCO believed so strongly in the value and logic of its engineering data
that it purchased land for a four-tower array to include a true Franklin antenna
and began negotiating for the necessary usage permits).
1961 Report and Order
The matter came to a head in 1961, with the publication of
a “Report and Order: In the Matter of Clear-Channel Broadcasting in the
Standard Broadcast Band.” It was a landmark edict.
Until then, with two exceptions, only one station operated at night in
the contiguous 48 states on each of 24 1-A channels (the 1961 rule making would
add 1030 as the 25th 1-A channel). That Report and Order authorized duplication
on 13 of the 1-A frequencies, assigning one new Class II station to each
channel, to operate with a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 50 kW at night.
(Interestingly, in some cases, Class II stations operated with lower
power during the day, to protect existing adjacent-channel daytime
These new Class II stations would be allocated to western
states, to serve the white areas. The initial duplication table is shown in Fig
1. The 1961 Report and Order
contains some interesting language. In an intriguing way of hinting at the
inevitable, instead of explaining how they chose which channels to duplicate,
the commissioners chose to describe instead why they had spared the remaining 12. Here,
in the FCC’s words, which are italicized, are their reasons for protecting
those 12 1-A channels as potential super-power candidates:
640: “Serves the
west; Super-power could cover a lot of white area.” KFI might operate 750
kW as a DA-1, oriented 22 degrees. But since 1944, 640 had been duplicated in
Ames, Iowa, by WOI, under a series of STAs permitting nighttime operation.
could cover a lot of under-served area in the southeast.” The commission
said WSM might operate 750 kW, DA-N at 135 degrees.
660: Because 660 was duplicated in Fairbanks, it was “protected
for now against further duplication.” While 660 might be available for
super-power, such a station would not be authorized in New York, because it
would need to protect 650 and 670, requiring directionalizing north and
southeast, into areas already well-served.
could cover a lot of under-served area in the southeast.” WLW could
operate 750 kW DA-1 at 180 degrees. Interestingly, the FCC also said 700 might
be available for both super-power in Cincinnati and duplication in Utah.
750: This had been assigned to Alaska for duplication, to
allow Anchorage to surrender 730 to the Mexicans. WSB, citing the distance to
Alaska, asked the FCC to protect 750 as a U.S. super-power channel. This request
was denied at first, but in response to a later Petition for Reconsideration, in
1965 the commission granted the protection, making it clear that this did not
imply higher power would in fact be authorized.
820: “Serves the
west; super-power could cover a lot of white area.” The FCC said WBAP
could operate 750 kW DA-N at 270 degrees.
could expand service in the Midwest.” But this channel too was already
partly duplicated. WNYC had been on the air in New York City since 1943, under
limited nighttime authority. The 1961 Report and Order made the New York
authorization “permanent.” This
meant that in a super-power application, WCCO would have to limit its nighttime
power to the East.
could cover a lot of under-served areas in the southeast.” WHAS could
operate 750 kW DA-N at 135 degrees.
could cover a lot of under-served area in the southeast.” The FCC said WWL
could operate 750 kW DA-1 at 0 degrees.
could expand service in the Midwest.” WHO could operate 750 kW DA-1 at 270
degrees. But if 1040 was good for the Midwest, why not 1120? Because KMOX at
super-power on 1120 would cause unacceptable interference to adjacent-channel
1110 and 1130 stations.
1160: “Serves the
west; super-power could cover a lot of white area.” The FCC suggested KSL
could operate 750 kW, non-directional.
1200: “Serves the
west; super-power could cover a lot of white area.” WOAI could operate 750
kW DA-N at 337 degrees.
Had these stations been granted super-power,
directionalized on the bearings suggested, imagine how the AM band might have
The Clear Channel Broadcasting Service had been doing
yeoman’s work in assessing the various technical proposals before the FCC and
ensuring that its own position was understood.
Led by WSM’s Jack DeWitt, the small but enterprising CCBS technical
group filed Comments proposing a “gang of 20” channels for 750 kW operation.
These included 640-650, 680, 700, 720, 750, 810-850, 870, 890, 1020-1040,
1160, 1180, 1200 and 1210. In being
so specific by frequency in its
comments, the FCC may have been responding to this CCBS proposal.
The 1961 Report and Order provided other information of
To protect itself on
760, WJR had suggested to the commission that 760 be duplicated only in Hawaii.
The commission didn’t buy that one. 760 had been assigned for use in San
Diego, to allow KFMB to vacate 540 for use by Mexico. In this instance, the FCC
displayed its pragmatic side by granting itself some waivers; most notably
reducing the protection criteria for KBIG/740 Avalon, for the interference that
would result from a San Diego operation on 760.
The commissioners also reviewed an ill-timed proposal by KBIG that
830 be duplicated in Southern California. The idea was that if KFMB were given
830 instead of 760, this would resolve the KFMB/KBIG interference problem (while
also solving WJR’s concerns about a domestic co-channel operation on 760).
KBIG said, “if KFMB were to be assigned 760, why not move KBIG from 740
to 830?” That too would resolve the 760/740 interference problem. The
commission said “no dice,” and stuck to its earlier ruling that 760 would
come alive in San Diego. 830 would continue to operate from Minneapolis (with
the secondary operation in New York City), and 830 would suffer no further
duplication at this time.
The FCC also carried over without resolution
the long-standing “WCCO-WNYC” battle.
1030, which had been a 1-B channel reserved for duplication in New
Mexico, would now become a duplicated 1-A channel and opened to operation in
Wyoming, pending resolution of the famous “KOB Case.” (That story, the “WCCO-WNYC
830 fight” and other related stories will be the subject of follow-up
The commissioners also cut through a myriad of pleadings and
population statistics to reaffirm that super-power on the Chicago 1-A stations
“was not needed to provide new national night-time service.” They said “additional
stations in the West on the 4 Chicago frequencies (670, 720, 780 and 890) would
better serve Western listeners.”
Ironically, in the
ultimate resolution of the clear-channel matter, the Chicago stations, by virtue
of their central location, probably ended up with more protected land coverage
area than many of the 1-A stations located near either coast.
That 1961 Report and Order
was a major milestone and a significant victory for the opponents of
clear-channel authority. But the clear-channel operators weren’t about to
Next time: Congress gets into the act.
1961 1-A DUPLICATIONS
New (Existing) Assignment
(Duplication in Iowa)
San Diego for KFMB move
(“The KOB Case”)
(Duplication in New York)
New Mexico NEW
Wyoming move of KTWO (“KOB case”)
California or Oregon NEW
Mark Durenberger welcomes questions and comments
about this series via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org