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Where Is Terrestrial Radio Going?

Jonathan Yinger looks into his crystal ball at the future for AM radio

The author is president and CEO of the Christian Broadcasting System and Broadcast Properties LLC.

Every now and then, I get a quiet moment to ponder. This one has been on my mind, a lot, perhaps because the AM improvements that I have been hoping for, haven’t happened. In fact, I am starting to doubt that they ever will.

I am starting to believe that the translator move is all AM owners are going to get.

I’ve been kicking the following “what if” scenario around for years. I have bounced it off of my FCC attorney as well as other friends in the industry. If I had to guess, this is where I see terrestrial radio going, 10 years or so from now.

[Read: “So Far, Very Few Broadcasters Have Shown Interest”]

Analog FM will likely sunset, leaving only FM digital HD Radio. 

In that scenario, we’ll probably have four good digital channels with each FM allocation. Imagine that FM license and facility being like a condominium; a four-unit building, if you will. There could be four channels with four different owners. Each would shoulder their own costs plus one-quarter of the maintenance, utilities, etc.

I envision the sunset of AM and the FCC moving those displaced broadcasters to this type of setup. Each AM owner would buy into co-ownership of an HD Radio FM channel. Naturally, the original owner would reap the benefit of the sale of part of his license.

If you’re an owner of multiple AM stations in a market and you are lucky enough to own a good FM, you should be all set.

A big downside to this is a potential loss of coverage should your AM feature a good dial position and power because I highly doubt that the FCC will compensate any AM for migrating over to an auxiliary HD FM signal.

I’m pretty sure that the commission has no use for the senior band.

Furthermore, receiver manufacturers need to change the way HD FM appears on their respective screens. As it is now, the chief analog station enjoys a prominent place on the screen while all of the auxiliary channels appear as small buttons below it, a disadvantage to them. These newly occupied HD subchannels will need to have a more equal appearance in the future — showing the call letters of the other stations.

Something needs to happen here. I would really like to see the existing AM stations operate with reduced interference, either through elimination of man-made interference or power increases. Should this not happen, then we need a pathway for these station owners to serve their markets, with a quality signal and good coverage. The above plan may just be our way forward.

What are your own thoughts? Email [email protected] with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject field.

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