I think Ben Downs' proposal defeats the whole purpose of AM revitalization. There are already hundreds of AM stations that have gone dark due to financial or other reasons since Chairman Pai's quest to save AM radio began, so I don't buy Downs' theory of "(reducing) noise and congestion a bit" on AM. Basically it sounds like he's asking for translators to become low power FM stations at the expense of killing off more AM stations. News Flash: the FM band is already overcrowded as well as the AM band, Mr. Downs, especially with the hundreds of FM translators cluttering up the band: over 10,000 commercial and non-commercial full power stations combined at last count. If you want an FM station, you can apply for a license just like everyone else. I hope Chairman Pai tells Mr. Downs to stick it in his ear. The FCC needs to get rid of some the noisy RFI generating devices that are trashing the AM band instead of trying to kill off more stations. Reducing interference on AM would go a LONG way towards revitalizing the band, because it's one of the primary reasons listeners have migrated to FM. Off my soapbox . . . .
Unfortunately Downs is actually right. In fact, the idea of thinning the AM band has been advocated as necessary for years by those smarter than I. But let's look at what he's proposing.
The proposal at this point is for class D stations. There haven't even been any new class D stations licensed since the 80's. That already limits the scope.
As far as the congestion on AM vs FM, those are apples and oranges. I know you've listened to the AM band at night and you know how useless it's become for all but the strongest signals. Manmade noise may be a problem for some, but the biggest problem is skywave. When you have 4 different signals all coming through on the same frequency at the same time, none of them are useful. That isn't true on FM due to both FM signals not going past the horizon (usually) plus the capture effect. AM is much more unpredictable and susceptible to a distant station messing with it. For example, I'm only about 30 miles from KDYL and there's no sign of it whatsoever at night because of the mass of conflicting signals on 1060. This is intentional audio RF and not background noise. Nobody is going to listen to a station that they can't hear. That's just common sense. There's also the issue of the bad fidelity on almost all AM receivers made in the last 20+ years. It just sounds BAD. Technically AM can have the same frequency response as FM. That never happens anymore. The FCC could force radio manufacturers to spend more than 25 cents on the AM receiver parts, but they won't. That's why there's almost no music on AM anymore and hasn't been for decades.
But those aren't even the big reasons why this proposal makes sense. What Downs is proposing has de facto ALREADY HAPPENED. Just read the trades. There's news every single day about AM stations that are only on the air because that provides a justification for running a translator with the same programming which is what everyone is actually listening to anyway. These stations barely mention the AM frequency if they mention it at all. The branding is all about the translator and the AM signal is just an expense that is clogging up the AM band with a signal that few if any are actually listening to, not to mention taking up valuable land for the AM arrays. This horse left the barn, jumped the fence and is three towns over by now. The AM's providing service is pure fiction. Don't get me wrong. I don't like this. I said at the time that allowing IBOC and AM stations to be fancy STL's for translators was a really bad idea. It happened and wishing it hadn't isn't going to get anyone anywhere. The industry should stop pretending that these AM's matter. Take them dark and allow those AM's who are still trying to actually serve people with their signal to have a fighting chance.
As far as suggesting that a broadcaster apply for a license, that's a non-starter from the get go. The last usable full service allocations dried up decades ago. You simply aren't going to find any available allocations in any metro area of any reasonable size. Even trying to squeeze in a translator or LPFM has been incredibly difficult over the last decade and a half and the recent translator filing windows have wrung out the last few drops even from that. You can try buying an existing station, but that requires deep pockets. Jim Bob with a 1kw peashooter that's barely covering expenses isn't going to be able to afford that.
As far as what position Pai might have, this is the guy who pretty much singlehandedly blew up net neutrality. Downs makes a good point that there are class D's encroaching on the skywave service of the big class A's and the A's (owned by the big dogs like Cumulus/iHeart/Entercom/etc) could potentially benefit from reduced interference. On the other hand, nobody really sells skywave to advertisers anymore, so those distant listeners don't really help the bottom line. At the same time, forcing the small operators to shoulder unnecessary expense in maintaining the AM signals puts the big guys at an advantage. If I had to guess I would say Pai wouldn't be in favor of this proposal for that reason. He's in the pocket of big business and has proven that.
The real answer to "fixing" AM is to scrap the whole thing and start over. That's never going to happen.
Wow CA, I think that's the longest post of yours I've read in all the years I've been on this board. But I digress . . . .
InsideRadio just published another article which says that the number of AM stations in the US is at its lowest point since the 1980's. There's hardly a week that goes by where InsideRadio or Radio Insight doesn't have an article about another AM station going dark, and not all of them are class D's in Podunk USA. That's one of the reasons why I don't buy into Downs' proposal of reducing interference. AM stations are already dropping like flies without translators assuming primary status and the AM stations going dark.
The purpose of AM revitalization was to give AM stations (particularly the class D's) a listenable signal after they sign off or power down for the day. If Downs' proposal were to go into effect, I can see a mad rush of broadcasters buying up AM stations just to get a signal on FM and shut down the AM signal. That defeats Pai's avowed goal of helping AM stations survive. There's many areas along the Wasatch Front where FM reception is spotty to non-existent. I can't receive the FM translators for KVNU or KLGN where I'm at because they're first adjacent to full power stations in the Salt Lake metro, but I can hear the AM signals just fine. The groundwave coverage of AM gives it a distinct advantage over an FM translator, especially in emergency situations like natural disasters. That's been well demonstrated with the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas.
AS far as interference goes, skywave propagation has been an issue on AM since the broadcast band began, and it's not going away unless the FCC shuts down the band entirely. Modern electronics and Part 15 radiators are doing much more to trash the AM band than skywave propagation. I can't even hear KIHU (1010) or KDYL (1060) at night because of the 50 KW Canadian clear channels that dominate those frequencies after sundown. If those 2 stations can't be heard with 150 watts at night 40 miles from their transmitters, I doubt they're interfering with reception of more distant class A stations. Moreover, there are plenty of radios with above average AM reception and decent fidelity available to consumers at reasonable prices. In particular, Sangean and C Crane make several reasonably priced AM/FM sets where AM reception isn't just added an afterthought, and they also have variable bandwidths to reduce interference when necessary.
You can't convince me that the land under an AM tower in a small town of less than about 25,000 population is worth its weight in gold. In a major metro market like Salt Lake, it makes perfect sense that AM tower land is more valuable than the station. We've seen that with the demise of KWDZ, KTKK, KLBB, and KFAN. Many of the class D stations are in small markets that could actually serve their COL if they wanted to throw in a small percentage of local programming among the nationally syndicated shows. I really can't see a real estate goldmine in AM tower land for stations located in Podunk USA, which is where many of the class D stations are located. I think Downs and some of the other broadcasters champing at the bit to surrender their AM licenses just want the FCC to give them something for nothing. They don't want to spend the money on programming formats that offer something other than the typical News/Talk, Sports, Religious or Spanish language cookie cutter formats that presently dominate the AM band; they want to throw in the towel and take the easy way out by keeping their precious FM translators without the bother of the AM signal.
I agree to disagree for now!
Last Edit: Apr 10, 2018 10:09:26 GMT -7 by David: grammar
One of the big problems with the term "AM revitalization" is that the term itself is inaccurate. Increasing the value of AM signals was never the goal. A more accurate term would have been "AM station owners revitalization" but that wouldn't be nearly as catchy a name. The fact is that outside of the blowtorches, AM is ultimately doomed. That's not a happy reality, but it's true. The translators are a lifeline to the owners to give them a chance so they can continue to try to provide service.
As far as the usefulness of the AM signals, you're completely correct. Remember though even the proposal is for owners to VOLUNTARILY shut down the AM signal. If a station like KVNU gets utility from the AM signal then they keep things just as they are. (I suspect they like their AM since they just got a construction permit a few months ago to more than double their daytime power.) For the situations where the AM is just an albatross, ditch it.
Skywave propagation existed before radio did of course. The problem today is that AM signals are cumulative. When you had 3 signals on the same frequency in the whole country there wasn't much of an effect. When you have 300, they all add up. And those signals move a long way. Back in the early days of the extended band the little airport TIS station in Dallas was being DXed from Australia, and that was something like 60 watts.
As for the better AM radios, the audiophiles will buy them. 99% of the public will not. Done and done. The reason the formats you state dominate the AM band is because those are the ones that make any money at all. Remember when KWDZ did its Brigadoon and simulcast KODJ for a day? The difference was clear. Other than a handful of radio geeks nobody would want to listen to the AM. It just doesn't work. The same thing happens over and over again. LPs and cassettes gave way to CD's. VHS gave way to DVD's which itself is pretty much replaced by BluRay. SDTV gave way to HDTV which is being threatened by 4KTV, and so on.
I want to be clear. I don't like that this is how things have gone. I'm very much a purist like I think you are. The problem is that if you beat your head against a brick wall the wall is going to win every time no matter how hard you want to knock it down.
Even purists have to admit defeat sometimes. Eventually I'll cave in and get my own part 15 AM transmitter and hook it to a music source when I can't find anything other than Hannity, Limbaugh, and the latest sports news on AM to listen to--but I'm not ready to admit defeat just yet.
BTW, here's a link to an InsideRadio story about Chairman Pai's proposal to change the translator interference rules. In the three years since AM revitalization began, there's been a large increase in the number of complaints about translators causing interference to full power stations (imagine that!), and Pai wants to do something about it. I think there's an argument against Mr. Down's proposal to allow translators to assume primary status in there somewhere.