David Webster is CEO of production/technical firm VSI/HD Media in Southington, Conn. You may recall he wrote in Radio World recently about “How to Help AM Radio in Six Steps.”
Webster has written to Matthew Berry, chief of staff for Commissioner Ajit Pai, with thoughts on AM revitalization and FM translators. Radio World received a copy and shares it with Webster’s permission, part of our ongoing coverage of industry debate over how best to help AM.
Please let me extend my appreciation and gratitude to Commissioner Pai regarding his emphasis and attention towards revitalization of the AM broadcast band
. To many broadcasters this was the “shot of adrenaline” they needed to renew hope and determination for the future of their broadcast livelihoods.
As most are aware, AM radio, especially smaller operators and “AM only” facilities, are more often struggling in today’s environment. Levels of interference have increased dramatically, alternative entertainment choices have proliferated and audiences have become much more quality conscious in what is today a 24-hour media marketplace. AM broadcasters, faced with interference challenges, low-quality receivers, a crowded band and relegation to being mostly available during daylight hours has created a negative perception in listeners.
Commissioner Pai has proficiently made the case in investigating various new avenues to technically help those on America’s first broadcast band improve their service to the public. AM power increases, going digital, AM on FM translators, creating a new service within the TV Channels 5 & 6 space or using DRM at 26 MHz (my favorite) along with new antenna designs are some of many great ideas that should seriously be considered.
These new ideas and others on the table all have merits to their advantage; however, they must be looked at and implemented from the perspective that they are “medium-” to “long-term” solutions for relieving AM broadcasters current challenges.
In this regard, beyond perhaps “power increases” and “negotiated interference,” the one idea that will immediately benefit AM broadcasters is their use of FM translators. FM is already compatible with current receivers in the marketplace and its propagation and technical characteristics are well known.
The steps taken by the Commission to allow AMs to broadcast on FM translators was a fantastic move and has allowed some AMs to better serve their market and quite possibly avoid going dark. FM also allows AMs to have full service at night, although many stations can and do run reduced power at night, the power levels are often so low that their signals only cover a fraction of their daytime service area. This reduced service is obviously a detriment to the operator, but I also believe it is a detriment to public service as many local stations are the last resource of information available in emergency situations. Severe storms over the last few years, including the recent SuperStorm Sandy, have revealed once again the critical role that these local broadcasters can play in times of emergency.
While the FCC steps to date in allowing AMs to rebroadcast their signals on FM translators have been a terrific boon to those broadcasters that can acquire them, there are still issues at hand. Many stations that can successfully acquire a translator often times will need to move the translator to within their primary contour, however the limitations on the distance those translators can be moved often render the move impossible. In response to the distance issue, and with the best intentions in the spirit of revitalizing the AM band, a request to the FCC Audio Division for changes has been made. As filed by Attorney John Garziglia and representing WTCJ(AM), FCC File No. BPFT-20121116ALE, provides mechanisms to relax current regulation and make the relocation of FM translators to an AM broadcasters coverage area more often possible. I fully support this filing, believe it to be in the public interest and appreciate in advance its consideration by the Commission.
Recently there has been a groundswell of interest and support in addressing the woes of AM broadcasters. AM radio has served our public well through wars, recessions, elections, tragedy and triumph. The suggestions that have been made recently show that interest in this subject has grown in interest and urgency. As commercial broadcasting is quickly approaching its “Centennial in America,” it is clear that AM radio is ready for a reboot.
Again, my appreciation to Commissioner Pai and the Commission for the serious time, commitment and consideration that is being put forth on this issue; I look forward to working with all interested parties to help move this cause forward and thank you for your time.