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AM: Talk About the Passion

For many readers, the health of AM isn't just an abstract concept

In this issue Radio World continues our autumn theme of exploring AM radio, with Randy Stine’s story “AM, and How!” (We’re using the term AM here to mean “the state and health of businesses on the AM band in the United States,” rather than discussion of amplitude modulation technically.)

Few articles with which I’ve been involved have produced the kind of howling I heard from readers in response to Randy’s piece “Is AM Radio Still Relevant?” in our Sept. 1 issue. I’d hoped to comment earlier but have had other business to attend to in recent columns.

One GM described that story as an editorial “raping” of the AM band, especially of stations in small and medium-sized markets. Among other things, he said RW implied that only AM operators have had trouble getting financing.

A dear friend of mine called the article “the stupidest I’ve seen in years” and wondered half-jokingly if someone had broken into our corporate offices and snuck the piece into print when I wasn’t looking. “Whoever this guy is, call security. Keep him away from your computers.”

He continued: “The FCC hasn’t given up on AM. They still want regulatory fees from AM stations every year.” My friend also points out that there are numerous ads in Radio World for AM-related products.

You saw more reader reactions in our special followup in the Oct. 7 issue, in which I provided space for five broadcast professionals to tell us their views about the strengths or failings of AM.

Attack or report?

As an editor I certainly appreciate when a story sparks a strong reaction. However I get no joy if a reader thinks we’ve run an article simply to be provocative, that we’re editorializing subversively in our news pages or that we’re being sloppy.

We do not have a “new editorial policy attacking the mere existence of AM radio in any form,” as one reader told me. I care about AM very much; indeed the article was intended not to criticize AM but to summarize reasons for the concern that is evident among both regulators and broadcasters.

I conceived this series as a way to explore both the challenges and successes of AM, topics that in my opinion have gotten less attention than they deserve.

Suppliers Support Boston Engineers Four times a year Broadcast Signal Lab coordinates a social lunch near Boston for the radio engineering community in the area.

“Professional fellowship, networking and hearty cuisine are the only planned agenda,” says Rick Levy of BSL. “Bring your latest experiences, concerns, war stories, advice and data for informal discussion and sympathetic sharing.”

Photo courtesy Jim Peck Here’s a snapshot from a recent event. Bill Gould of Moseley Associates, left, picked up the tab for most of the lunch cost; Jim Peck, right, regional manager for SCMS (and freelance RW photographer), donated a Sony HD Radio tuner as a door prize.

Michael Saffell, director of technology for New Hampshire Public Radio, walked away happy. No word on the name of the comely lass at upper right.

It’s fair to say that, taken on its own, that first article was unbalanced. Readers didn’t get to see comments from believers who might point to AM’s technical stability, market penetration of receivers, notable success stories, AM’s ability to cover distances, its deep history and strong roots in many parts of the country.

Those are characteristics we should not ignore when judging the health of AM businesses in the United States. And I was pleased to find that so many readers have faith in the strength and outlook for AM. However, I am troubled that many of their e-mails, while criticizing how RW explored some hard questions, failed then to address them.

For instance, what does it mean to AM’s long-term viability if new consumer electronic devices include FM only? What does it mean that AM’s role as an entertainment source for young consumers has become “almost non-existent,” in the FCC’s words? What does it mean that the market for AM station transactions has dwindled so much? What does it mean that prominent broadcasters and industry professionals like those we quoted are so gloomy about AM’s outlook?

Radio World fabricated none of those issues or comments. While we can and should acknowledge the many successes that AMs enjoy, I hope businesses built on the AM platform are thinking about these questions for their longer-term viability. I’d like to hear their answers.

I remain committed not only to reporting on the world of radio but sharing your reactions to our work, even when you are critical. It’s one of the strengths of Radio World. So write to me about this or any article at [email protected].

It’s sobering to remember that we’re not talking about an abstract concept.

One of the most heartfelt reactions came from a veteran broadcast engineer and consultant, someone whose name you may know.

He called to share his grief over reading our story. Imagine what it would be like, he said, to spend one’s career helping to build the AM infrastructure, designing and building AM stations, pouring one’s sweat and sometimes one’s blood into constructing first-class AM facilities, going without sleep for 30 hours at a time to get stations on the air — then to find the very relevance of AM being questioned.

His phone call was a reminder to me of the many people whose dreams, exertions and tears have gone into creating what we know as AM radio. To them I say, “Thank you for your work and your passion.”

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