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Japanese AM Stations Begin Suspensions

Regulators allow a year-long trial of suspended AM services to gauge the impact

A Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication graphic promoting its AM Suspension Help Desk

Thirteen private radio companies in Japan are looking at what a full transition to FM — or shut down — would mean for their AM services. The broadcasters are taking advantage of a policy announced last year by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications that allows them to suspend operations for as long as one year.

The first wave of stations began going dark on AM on Feb. 1, 2024, and most plan to be off air until Jan. 31, 2025. In total, 34 AM stations operated by the 13 companies will shut down for at least a portion of the year.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK is not participating in the AM suspension.

During the suspension period, broadcasters are expected to make their programming available via FM, cable television, internet distribution, or other methods. Four AM stations in areas that could not be adequately served via an alternative means were not allowed to suspend operations.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications establish the AM suspension measure in order to verify the impact AM shutoff on broadcasters and listeners. The ministry noted that the costs of maintaining AM services are increasingly difficult for private broadcasters, leading them to consider converting their operations to FM or simply shutting down.

The end of the suspension measure coincides with the license renewal cycle for AM broadcasters and, according to a report in Japan Today, “it will be up to each company to decide what to do.”

Red markers indicate stations allowed to suspend their AM operations, blue markers stations that were not allowed. The broadcasters’ names are in Japanese followed by the number of AM stations that requested suspension. (From a March 5, 2024, report from the Secretariat of the Study Group on the Future of the Broadcasting System in the Digital Era)

Since 2014, Japan has been licensing new FM stations in the 90.0 to 94.9 MHz portion of VHF band II vacated after the digital television transition. (Traditionally, FM radio in Japan operates on 76.1 to 89.9 MHz.) Referred to as “Wide FM,” the expanded band channels have been used for “FM complimentary relay stations” that act as repeaters for AM stations to help counter coverage issues in urban areas, mountainous regions, disaster resiliency, and areas subject to interference from foreign transmissions.

In considering what impact the loss of AM could have during an emergency, the ministry looked at the Jan. 1, 2024, Noto Peninsula earthquake. The 7.5 Mw event took three FM and one AM station off the air temporarily. Hokuriku Broadcasting’s Waijima AM station was off air for three days, compared to FM stations going dark for one to 22 days.

During the suspension period, the ministry is operating a help desk to take comments from the public and other interested parties about the AM suspension.

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