You have seen by now that some radio groups are being creative with the program sources for their HD Radio multicast streams. When HD Radio first took to the air, many stations created a jukebox player to feed the multicast stream. While that creates a placeholder and puts a niche format on the air, listeners rarely just want a jukebox for an extended time.
In some cases, FM stations will multicast an AM sister station’s audio. It at least provides a cleaner version of an existing program.
So why not take this a step further? Some groups are filling their multicast channels with signals from other markets. One example: Viacom’s KTWV-FM in Los Angeles has been using the feed from its country station in San Bernardino (KFRG).
This does not sit well with a KTWV competitor in LA. That competitor — Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters — has asked the FCC for a ruling to declare that Viacom’s arrangement violates the FCC’s multiple ownership rules and its FM allocation scheme.
The FCC has already ruled to prevent an owner from beefing up his station count to get around ownership limits. An explanation from the Commlaw Blog from Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth summarizes this well:
The Commission held that if a licensee (call it Licensee A) of a station in a market were to broker a multicast stream from another licensee’s station in the same market, that brokered stream would count towards the local radio ownership cap for Licensee A. This would prevent a maxed-out licensee — such as Viacom in this instance — from programming using another licensee’s in-market multicast channels.
It seems the Mt. Wilson claim is pushing the intent of the rules too far. Viacom already owns all the stations in question.
A better argument is that the Viacom is in essence using the LA signal as a full-power booster for the San Bernardino signal, and Mt. Wilson makes this claim as well. Wilson wants this option closed so no group owner will essentially simulcast an out-of-market stream via a multicast channel.
What will happen? Potentially another roadblock for the HD Radio rollout.