Doug Vernier is president of V-Soft Communications. This is one in a series of Q&As with industry professionals about their presentations at the upcoming NAB Show in Las Vegas.
Radio World: Your session is entitled “FCC AM Revitalization — What It Is, the Impact and Consequences.” April 25, 10–10:30 a.m. What is this going to be about?
Doug Vernier: The session is an extension of some analysis work V-Soft Communications did for the NAB. For the study, we used the revitalization proposals from the FCC’s Further Notice that were not acted on, but that were sent out for further input from broadcaster and the public. Our focus was primarily on changes to the daytime AM station rules that could have the ability to improve a station’s flexibility to locate facilities and improve coverage. We wanted to know whether the proposed changes to the daytime AM technical rules would solve the AM plight or whether there may be some unintentional consequences.
RW: You are known for your work in signal propagation measurement software and related items so this seems a departure for you. What’s up with that?
Vernier: It’s not really a departure, what we did was all about U/D ratios, interference-free coverage analysis and population loss and gain. We used V-Soft’s AM-Pro 2 software for all our propagation studies.
RW: Many AM owners have little money and/or interest in investing in their properties. Can revitalization be done in a financially-efficient way?
Vernier: Some AM owners have little interest because they face so many roadblocks to improvement and that’s the focus of the improvements the FCC is considering. The idea is to revitalize AM and make practical any new investments AM broadcasters would have to make. AM radio is still one important way to reach people. It’s still available on existing and nearly all new radios in production, but, that may change if listenership and interests continues to decline.
RW: Is it realistic to think that all of those modern technology devices that spew AM interference are somehow going to be reined in or is AM a goner in the long run?
Vernier: The simple way to overcome environmental noise is to increase power of the facility receiving the interference. Nearly all AM stations are prohibited from doing this because of the current rules. Changing the rules to allow for more powerful stations would, not solve, but go far to toward helping to balance out the noise issue. Many of the new technological devices to which you refer cause interference over a large spectrum not just the AM frequencies. The FCC needs to address solutions, since regulating interference is one of the primary reasons for its existence. To this end, the commission has established an advisory committee of some of the brightest minds in our business. We wish them the very best, but for the near future higher power is one important answer for stations experiencing this problem.
RW: Could AM find revitalization successful in some regions, maybe more rural areas, while becoming abandoned in RF interference-heavy urban areas?
Vernier: Yes, to a degree, because in the larger cities most of the AM stations have historically been granted daytime powers that reach the FCC’s 50,000 watts maximum. However, a great many of these stations also have directional arrays that weaken their power and coverage in certain directions. If some of the commission’s proposal were adopted, depending on the circumstances, those directional arrays can be modified or eliminated, consequently improving local area coverage. Our studies for the NAB show that, on average, under the rules as proposed, large daytime power increases would be available to those stations that choose to increase power. Some stations trying to maintain multiple-tower directional arrays could move to a single-tower site and increase power. This would help large city stations whose towers are on property, sometimes, worth more than the station itself. Stations could more easily move to single-tower sites and possibly multiplex with other stations. This also applies to the rural stations that face the same issue.
RW: Would some stations lose coverage inside their protected contours?
Vernier: Yes, currently the FCC protects B, C and D class stations to the 0.5 mV/m service contours. The rules proposed by the commission would take us back to the 1:1, 1991 first-adjacent protections, 25 mV/m second-adjacent protection and drop the third-adjacent protection altogether. The protected contour for all non-Class A stations would become the 2 mV/m. Since, under these rules, stations need not protect other stations as much as they are doing today, more interference within the 0.5 mV/m contour will be caused by another station raising its power.
However, our studies show that it can be compensated for by the station receiving the new interference raising its power. Therefore, we have the issue of who raises its power first takes the cake. Most of the affected stations that we looked at could regain most of their lost interference-free 0.5 mV/m coverage if they also increased power. Some of the affected stations could end up with more interference-free coverage and a few could not increase coverage at all due to relationships with Canada, Mexico and other countries with which we have treaties. However, raising power at most stations, large or small, could be a costly endeavor and if the new rules are adopted, AM owners are going to have to study whether in the long run it will be a risk worth taking.
RW: AM has had a good run and the properties are well understood. Can something be done with it, not necessarily broadcast-oriented?
Vernier: I think we should try everything we can to save and improve AM listening, even to the extent of introducing new modulation techniques. It was Phoebe Cary that said, “Only yield when you must, but never give up the ship.” Based on what I have heard, our FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai also agrees with this sentiment. I am sure that a lot of ham radio operators would like to use the frequencies. The frequencies could also be used for digital signaling, switching or for other innovative ideas that we haven’t heard about.
RW: It’s a big show and attendees are strapped for time, why should they make time to check your session out?
Vernier: If you own an AM station or are otherwise interested in how we can utilize our precious broadcast spectrum, this is a session you will want to attend.
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