FCC Rulemaking: Changes to AM Interference Protection

As I was preparing to post my latest blog on the state of AM Radio today, I was again distracted by FCC actions aimed at AM broadcasters.  My latest entry is the first blog discussing the FCC & it’s relationship to the health of the AM band throughout history.  However, It seems more timely to relate this issue first:

The FCC has proposed a rule-making for changes to the protected contours of AM stations.  I won’t drag out all the technical fine points to bore some of you, but will summarize:  the feds want to eliminate night & “critical hours” protection for many of the remaining (Class A) “clear” and “semi-clear” stations in order to allow smaller broadcasters using the same frequency to increase their power to overcome interference & other problems they claim have cut down their usable listening range.  This ill-thought proposal will simply add more noise & interference to the AM band at night, eliminating the ability to provide timely emergency communications to residents over a wide listening area – including remote listeners.  The FCC seems to be going in the opposite direction of practical, scientific solutions that acknowledge the unique characteristics of AM signals during darkness.  With increasing crises from weather-related disasters on the increase, it is time again to revisit the idea of high-powered clear channel broadcasting on the AM band, rather than band-aid solutions that are questionable as to their effectiveness.  High powered clear channel AM signals, with minimal interference, are capable of reaching a large listening area comprising of several urban centers plus a wide swath of rural/remote residents.  To be fair, the feds are proposing a few positive technical changes, such as rolling  back some types of adjacent channel protection to pre-1991 standards. This all comes at the same time the FCC is getting an earful on both sides of the issue to create a new class of FM broadcaster with higher power. The results are likely to add to the increasing interference & congestion on the FM band.  Another rant for another day!

My previous distraction to the series on today’s AM Radio also did not sit well with me & I have to really wonder just what exactly the feds define as “AM Revitalization” & whether they actually want to HELP AM broadcasters survive.  To recall, the FCC denied a request by a small Arizona AM broadcaster possessing an FM translator, to actually shut off the AM signal & use the FM translator as the “primary source” of programming for a one-year trial.  While I appreciate the FCC may not have wanted to create a precedent, this denial shuts down a very practical solution for SOME AM broadcasters in smaller markets not saturated with FM signals.  The FCC COULD have approved this to see how well the experiment worked, and then dealt with similar applications on a case-by-case business.   Allowing AM broadcasters to “flip” to the FM band & shut off their AM signals, has worked well in a number of countries, including next to us in Canada.  While NOT a practical solution in a large metro area such as Sea-Tac with an over-saturated FM dial, this can be a winning formula in medium & small markets with plenty of space left on FM for new signals.

These are both examples of the short-sighted directions the FCC is taking to improve the health of not only AM broadcasters, but those who are licensed to the FM band as well.  Stand by for a new blog on the state of AM Radio today coming soon & you’ve been briefed as to the topic – the FCC!

Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

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