Tom Osenkowsky is a Radio World contributor. Here, he comments as a
consultant and former AM station general manager.
Much attention is being focused on options
to help the AM band.
I’d like to point out first what
we have -- and by “we” I refer to AM broadcasters.
have excellent transmission technology. We have transmitters with very good
specifications in terms of frequency response, THD/IM distortion and low
tilt/overshoot. We have audio processors that produce excellent audio quality
and loudness when properly set up. We have computer simulation tools such as
Moment Method and feeder system matrix modeling which can optimize impedance
and pattern bandwidth for directional systems. We have tools such as the Array
Solutions Vector Impedance Analyzer, OIB and other instruments to adjust AM
The bottom line is that an AM
broadcaster can transmit a high-quality audio product.
the audience has is an increased noise floor partly caused by the very
technology it now faces as competition: DSL, computers, BPL among others. They
also have less sensitive narrowband receivers and auto antennas embedded with
more aesthetically acceptable appurtenances. Technology improvements such as
NRSC pre-emphasis, AM stereo and AM IBOC have done little to substantially
increase listener interest in AM radio. We had the hope that annually required
emission measurements (“NRSC” measurements) would be an incentive for AM
receiver manufacturers to adhere to the AMAX standard. This, of course, never
What we have is a medium that once was at the
top of its game. In the 1960s we had AM only car radios. Then came FM, 8-track
players, cassette players, CD changers, satellite radio, iPod and USB interface
jacks. These are all competing to provide entertainment in one’s vehicle, most
with audio quality better than the average AM receiver.
There are ideas and proposals to relocate the AM band to VHF and
transition to all-digital mode (as was done with DTV). While these are
technology related, we must also consider what is in this for the listener. We
need to provide an incentive by means of a product that will entice them to
embrace this new technology.
As far as “sunsetting”
analog AM service: Yes the idea is scary, but consider the many technologies
that have been “sunset” over time: Cart, DAT, cassette, LPs, 45s, reel tape,
DATS/SEDAT satellite receivers, shortwave stations and CDs. A great deal of
money had been invested in those too; yet progress brought forth newer
Broadcasters and the FCC need to be
willing to examine the AM broadcast service, and refine the rules to
accommodate the realities we face today with a look ahead to those we will face
in the future.