Weiner: FCC Must Get Back Into Inspection Biz
     

An image from Weiner’s website
One in a series about AM revitalization comments.

Engineer Burt Weiner is something of an expert in radio interference. He thinks the AM band remains a “vital resource” but that its quality has been neglected; and he believes most engineers want the FCC to take a more active role in protecting AM from that internal neglect.

Weiner is among those who have filed comments to the commission’s notice of proposed rulemaking about so-called “AM revitalization.” He has been involved in broadcast engineering since 1957; his firm specializes in the measurement and mitigation of signal interference.

Weiner writes that the band has evolved “into such low technical standards and regards” and says many broadcast engineers weren’t around when AM radio “sounded very good and was virtually noise-free.”

His recommendations:

-The FCC needs to better enforce rules it already has.

-The commission must restart random inspections “of all transmission aspects of broadcast transmitter facilities.” Weiner says most engineers now feel the FCC’s failure to inspect means it no longer cares, and thus stations no longer pay attention to facilities or emissions until they experience failure. “Responsible engineers still believe that the commission is supposed to take an active role in preventing this apparent neglect,” which can affect not only one station but others on the dial.

-The commission should strictly enforce the Part 15 rules for unintentional radiators that create damaging interference to AM reception.

-Mandatory annual measurements must be maintained as written, Weiner says. “There are groups that have a pecuniary interest in having the requirement for these measurements as well as 73.44 deleted from the rules. This must not be allowed to happen.”

-Rules regarding AM modulation levels that allow negative peaks to 100 percent should be rewritten. “Negative modulation amplitude of 100 percent results in carrier cutoff that more often than not produces buckshot and/or splatter. The rules should clearly specify a maximum negative peak modulation of 96 percent, which is only a fraction of a Decibel lower and would not be discernible to any listeners. This would allow for transmission system response and instrumentation errors.”

-All broadcast FM receivers must have a broadcast AM receiver section with a minimum standard of performance, “not limited to just acceptable bandwidth, but overall sound fidelity.”

-The commission must take steps to avoid abuse of translators. Weiner believes FM translators for AMs “do nothing to improve or revitalize the AM broadcast band, and in fact pull listeners away from AM broadcast.” But if they must exist, the commission needs to learn from what he describes as the history of abuse of FM translators.

-AM translator rules should have certain restrictions. “Pair all AM-to-FM translators to its parent AM station by license … To be non-transferable except by way of transfer of ownership with its parent AM. … To prohibit an AM translator to LMA with any station within or outside of its ownership. … Prohibit an AM translator from carrying separate programming for any reason. … Prohibit a translator from operating for more than 14 hours after the parent AM station is off the air for any reason, and require the parent AM station to operate continuously and at licensed values during normal Daytime hours. …AM to FM translators may not be used to extend the parent AM station’s coverage beyond its primary signal coverage.”
 
He said the above recommendations will allow a daytime-only station to provide community service at night, and also prevent abuse of translator rules in which an AM with an FM translator could allow its AM facilities to fall into disrepair or claim hardship and continue to operate as an FM. He says vaguely written rules leave loopholes for abuse.
 
He also believes raising power for existing AMs would not help but hurt, though increased interference.

And he recommends that the FCC revisit IBOC digital AM: “In its relatively brief history, it has been more destructive than beneficial to the AM broadcast band as a direct result of the severe interference it causes to adjacent-channel signals.”

Read Weiner’s filing.

Watch our page radioworld.com/amcomments for summaries of other comments to the FCC NPRM.

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Comment List:

Guys, There's no question an AM can sound very good. Although, anyone who says it can sound as good or better than an FM has either a hearing loss or is violating the rules. I am still running AM stereo on WLS (890) and I still have AM stereo tuners. Yes, it sounds good, but 99.9% of the radios out there are not any good above 3khz. Even my HD tuner is rolled off around 4.5khz. To me, that still sounds better than the low bit rate HD, as I'd rather hear a rolled off, good quality audio signal than one that sounds like a speaker in an aquarium! SO, no matter how good we can make it sound, the listener still has a piece of crap tuner in which to hear us. And just as "Ex Broadcaster" said, "AM hasn't been noise free since the advent of discharge lighting!" I can't fix that!
By Scott Clifton on 1/20/2014
I started out in AM and worked through TV to production house. I've seen the good, the bad, the ugly. I am very lucky to be back where my career really took off, and be a part of a excellent company. I visit the sites quite often. I listen on good quality receivers off site. AM, even with all the junk noise, can sound good. With the antenna system maintained, it can produce a nice signal to cover the COL. AM Stereo was a good idea, but for it to work, you had to chuck some money into the antenna system. It still makes AM sound better. The comment on power line noise is spot on. Again, I am lucky, since our power company still cares about this. There is no excuse for lousy receivers now. Technology has come that far. Collins made great receivers using tubes, that were AM.
By Michael Payne on 1/16/2014
It is about time someone who knows how good AM can and did sound years ago calls the FCC on it's neglect of the AM band, it is almost like they are intentionally letting it die... AND very good call on that destructive noise called IBOC, it does nothing and causes more noise on the band.
By bobyoung on 1/15/2014
Have any of you engineer types ever sold advertising? It sounds as though you think that the business just appears on the station's books. Ever had a client buy a package then later call back because they just realized it was on AM and want to cancel? Ever try to sell AM to an Advertising Agency? FM translators are the only thing to just keep the AM on the air and the power bill paid. How about the FCC field agents that ignore unlicensed FM translators that operate outside of the contours of FM stations? Spending a ton of money on AM stations just to keep a bunch of engineers busy is not going to help the band. Remember AM Stereo, the FCC purposely screwed that up. Kahn was a way better platform but Motorola had better lobbyists. As long as politics are involved we're doomed.
By Bill King on 1/15/2014
Burt, I love you man but it's time for us old AM holdouts to cut bait and move on! The AM band will never be a level playing field with the FM's. AM broadcasters spend small fortunes as you well know, upgrading their stations with shoe-horn patterns to maximize what they can. Just as I did with KMPC, doubling the amount of towers, installing a new phasor and ATU's... all the money we put into that to increase the power at night, still didn't improve the sound quality and other means to compete with the FM's. It's great to be efficient in what we do, but trying to squeeze more and more water out of the rock isn't furthering the AM broadcasters ability to compete. The FM translators are a joke and will do nothing but clog up the FM band even more. it just needs to be trashed and done right.
By Scott Clifton on 1/14/2014
AM hasn't been noise free since the advent of discharge lighting (CFL), switch mode power supplies and utilities that retired their RFI noise hunting staffs... Have to love the Asian switcher manufacturers who get their type acceptance and then remove the filtering and shielding once in production to save $0.02 per unit, RFI be damned. Take a drive around any major metropolitan area and listen to the AM band. That noise isn't a result of bad engineering on the AM broadcaster side. We are way past 1959 and unless you can collect up all of the RFI sources and get the power companies to fix lines nothing is going to fix AM. Mandating wide bandwidth receivers will just let all of the junk in... Now increase the transmit power by 10 dB and you might make a little dent..
By Ex Broadcaster on 1/13/2014
It doesn't take a rocket Scientist, or a Masters Degree, to use a Receiver and a laptop computer to monitor with. Save the display and let the Engineer In Charge look it over. The FCC could hire a few Station Chiefs, and let them do the monitoring. Will not have to pay the Union / Government scale then, saving a LOT of money. I don't know of any Chiefs that can not do just as good at an FCC Field Engineer. In the past 40 or so years I have been in Broadcasting, I have watched it go down hill real bad. I have been in transmitters sites that have NOT had a visit in over a year! The FCC is not doing anything to enforce their own rules and regs.
By Jim Appleton on 1/12/2014
I Can NOT agree More! I also feel, that IF an owner cares, and wants to spend the money (yea, right!) that with some Love, a few over nights, that an AM CAN sound as good, or better, than an FM! The listener MUST also have a Good Receiver too. After 40 years of Broadcast Engineering, I heard way too much of, "The FCC has to catch us first, and they don't have the money, man power, or time. So, why do I need to have the tower painted, and the lights replaced?" "So what if the AM has a buzz and is distorted, no one listens to AM any more. So why fix it!" AM CAN be the cleanest, best sounding station in the area, if there is some money and TLC. It CAN also be a real gold mine for an owner that can see this. YES! The FCC DOES need to get back into the enforcement field.
By Jim Appleton on 1/12/2014

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