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AMs “Stand Alone Against the Dragons”

Small station owner says the new revitalization order sharpens the sword

The author is owner of WYBT(AM) in Blountstown, Fla.

I’m excited. I’m in my 50th year in broadcasting, moving into first-time management/ownership of my hometown AM radio station in Blountstown, Fla. This is where I started at the age of 14. (You can go home).

Understand that I am not an engineer (some who know me are laughing and saying, “That’s for sure”). I stumble around; sometimes things work, sometimes not. I have been blessed with engineers and friends who know how to do what needs to be done; I rely on them a lot.

Having worked as a program director, operations director and DJ, I’ve been disappointed over 20 to 30 years at how AM has been treated, especially in smaller to medium markets. Most owners just gave up and let the FMs take over.

No doubt there are noise sources now that have a damaging effect on AM signals, but I’ve always believed it’s content that makes one station better than the other. I know little to nothing about the technical aspects of why AM reception is not as strong as it used to be. We can’t pick up signals like WLS, WLAC, WWL, WBT like we could years ago. I can only compare to what I’m dealing with here.

Old, poorly maintained equipment is not a fault of engineers but of owners who don’t want to spend the money to keep it up. I have a ground system that’s been ripped apart by overgrown trees and lack of maintenance, which even this non-engineer can see is a major problem for my signal — even to one of my towns only nine miles away.

The station’s previous owner also had an FM; however it’s being taken off in another direction, noncommercial/educational.

I am the only local radio station in the area. I broadcast by day at 1000 kHz with 5 kW. I serve three small communities — one with no traffic lights, one with only two traffic lights and one across the river in the Eastern time zone with only one traffic light.

I stream my station, use TuneIn and try to offer local programming for this small area with music and the swap shop, local news with sheriff’s report, obits and birthdays and, yes, lost dogs, as well as high school sports and everything else I can do to service the community.

Three major cities, within an hour’s drive to the north, east and southwest, have big-boy FMs. I can’t compete with them on a signal level, and most of the “more popular” formats are all around me. I play ’60s and ’70s top-40 oldies, and because I grew up here, music selection is easy for me. I am in the direct path of traffic from coastal Florida hurricane evacuation routes. Coming through my town is a quick way out when the weather gets bad, so I need a generator to keep me running in emergencies.

I see nothing but “up” in my future, with the new FCC rules and the thought of getting a translator to help with my signal and to please listeners who just refuse to listen to AM. Too little too late? Hardly. Not for me and my little station; it means I will survive and my hometown community gets covered.

The population of the two counties (not cities) for which I take responsibility as my local areas is just over 23,000 residents. They don’t all listen to me but I still serve them. Yet I must sign off at sundown, which after we set the clocks back means dark at 5 p.m.

The county next to me is in the Eastern time zone. So by the time I sign on in the morning, they’re at work or school. I’m worthless to them, except during their lunch break.

Relaxing some of the old AM rules, the ratchet rule, will certainly help me.

I’ve been told — and this could be wrong — one of the stations I protect by signing off at sundown is in Seattle. Look at the map. It’s all the way across the country from where I am in north Florida. Really? If there is a radio station within a 100-mile radius of me that’s concerned about my station conflicting with their signal, they are not concerned about serving their own community.

I’ve read most of the FCC revitalization order, and admittedly, my engineer will have to explain it to me. From what I’m able to understand, though, the 250-mile waiver rule to move translators will be a huge advantage for me. I can afford the expense of filing for the move once, but two or three times with the hop method plus the cost of the translator could prove too costly to attempt. That’s money I can put into replacing my ground system.

I have a friend in Dothan, Ala., who does not have the ground system issues I do, but as a standalone AM, he, too, is surrounded by big-boy FMs. One of his competitors has a full FM, a 5 kW AM and … a translator. Doesn’t seem fair. AM revitalization rules are going to help the small AM stations like us serve our communities better.

The large markets will always fight each other for whatever they can get, but in the small markets we stand alone against the dragons. AM revitalization rules sharpen the sword.

Again, not too little too late for me. Actually, it’s just in time.

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