I’ve heard from plenty of folks who think the boat has left the dock not only for digital on AM but for the entire AM band. Business and technical challenges facing America’s AM broadcasters have been well documented here and elsewhere.
You certainly won’t hear CEOs of big broadcast companies proclaiming their excitement around AM radio strategies unless it’s to count the cash they got from selling tower sites.
Yet when you talk with the handful of people who have real experience with the MA3 mode of HD Radio, their enthusiasm is notable. They say the signal sounds great, that coverage is strong and that they love how station metadata displays on modern dashboard displays.
Our latest Radio World ebook explores the question of what’s next.
One of the people I interviewed is Neal Ardman, who activated the MA3 mode on WMGG in Florida in January, the first station to take the step since the commission approved the option.
“The MA3 is the great equalizer in terms of audio quality,” Ardman told me. “When we flipped the switch, the sound is incredible. The station sounds like an FM.”
He pointed out that about 30% of cars in his area have HD Radio receivers, then echoed a comment we’ve heard from Dave Kolesar of Hubbard’s WWFD: “Our thinking is, would we rather be in a third of the cars sounding phenomenal, or in all of the cars sounding sketchy and marginal? We chose to be in the cars sounding great,” Ardman said.
It’s worth noting that some AM owners are watching these developments to see if multicasting on the digital AM signal is viable and, if so, whether that might eventually give them another path to obtaining more analog FM translators — similar to how current FM hybrid digital stations can use an HD2 to feed an analog FM.
I’m sure we’ll hear plenty about that possibility. Note, though, that while existing digital AM receivers can receive MA3, they are not set up to receive multicasting, so this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
(Urban One tried unsuccessfully last year to obtain experimental authority to feed an FM translator from a digital AM multicast. For now the FCC has said, “Because the record does not establish that an audio stream on an HD-2 subchannel is currently technically feasible, we will evaluate requests to rebroadcast multicast channels on an FM translator on a case-by-case basis until a more fully developed record is available on this subject.”)
I hope you’ll read the free ebook and let me know what you think.