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Letter: When It Comes to Noise on the AM Dial, Where the Heck Is the FCC?

"Quit listening to the pundits who have not been around when they blame problems on the AM band," says a reader

In this letter to the editor, the author comments on the ongoing discussions surrounding the future of AM radio. Comment on this or any article. Email [email protected].

Hi Paul,

I just had to write you after digesting everyone’s ideas about what caused the problems of AM radio. Number 1 is electrical storms, which God gave us, so we must live with that. There are, however, some things to even that out. Such as higher power and better maintenance on tower systems to be sure your radiation is as it should be. That one is a big Cracker Jack.

Also, make sure your audio system is cleared and functioning. I don’t mean loud, but clean and delivering quality sound.

Ed DeLaHunt

This, to some degree can beat lighting bangs. I’ve been knocking around this business for 68+ years, and as my first job right out of school, I was chief engineer of WMIN(AM) in St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minn. When I walked into that job, the place was a disaster. Radiation was not a concern to the current engineer, who was constantly being asked by the management why no one could hear them.

Well, that was simple. After evicting a mouse family and cleaning all connections, we replaced the Base Current Meter (which had been reading 1 amp higher than it was supposed to). We began to put WMIN back on the AM dial. We next replaced the audio processor, which outlived its life by 20 years and re-tuned the transmitter, which was so far out of resonance that they were burning up tubes every 90 days.

This one little story is still so real in many stations across the USA. Because of that issue, many people jump on the “Dump AM Bandwagon.” So this brings up the introduction of “what’s wrong with AM?” Where the hell is the FCC? When was the last time an inspector visited your station? All of those problems I mentioned about WMIN were violations. Next, the naysayers speak about the higher noise floor and how it affects AM. You’re right, but again, lay the blame in the right place.

There are rules relating to incidental radiation. In the present day, if you ask the typical FCC employee about this, they don’t even know what the hell it is. Every computer, microwave and other device that radiate RF Noise should also shut down. Take your field strength meter and go to your local Wal-Mart. When all the check-out lanes are open, you can read a signal from that building, sometimes a mile away.

Stack on top of that, every gas station that installed electronic pumps and computers, yet you wonder why you have noise on the AM band. Don’t blame AM! Blame the real culprit, the FCC, who failed and still fails to enforce the incidental radiation rules on LED lights, fluorescent lights and even car computers. God help the poor AM owner.

What can you do?

  1. Make sure your station is working at its fullest potential.
  2. If possible, increase your power on your current frequency.
  3. Change the frequency to an alternate channel that is less cluttered and also allows you more power.
  4.  Bite the bullet! If necessary, build another tower or two to increase your radiation to your key market.

I’m not telling you these things just as a mouthpiece, but as someone who has experienced and done all these things. I made up my mind in the 1980s to never build an AM station with less than 10,000 Watts.

By the way, I have erected three 10 kW AMs in that time. I did it to beat the noise floor. I built a 50k AM station in that period, which does quite nicely in overcoming the noise floor. If the FCC ever comes to its senses and redraws that noise floor, it will be like a jackpot on a slot machine for all AM owners.

In the meantime, the FCC tries to appease you with low-power FM’s. You know what that does — it sends listeners to FM and further decimates the AM band.

Quit listening to the pundits who have not been around when they blame problems on the AM band. When I was a youngster, at night, I would listen to AM stations thousands of miles away with no problem.

Ask an old-time truck driver, and he’ll tell you how great AM was. All of the problems lay at the FCC’s doorsteps, nowhere else. I’ll finish up by jotting down a few of what they did.

  • The FCC refused to enforce incidental radiation and enforce type acceptance of microwaves, computers and numerous electronic devices — like the Allison Transmissions, that wipe out AM Radios, including the vehicles they are in.
  • The FCC refused to hold AM owners to the standards.
  • The FCC approved one of the most flawed stereo systems for AM — Motorola.
  • The FCC took more listeners from AM by giving AM stations low-powered FM’s.

Can we fix it? Probably not, but what I heard just the other day from an AM owner made my blood run cold. He said, “If the FCC would let me, I’d shut the AM off and only run the translator.”

Many broadcasters have already turned off the AM. They did not have translators, just a high-power FM, and then they moved their customers.

Well, before you shut that off, give me a call … I just might be interested.

Ed DeLaHunt

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