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BEC Preview: AM Radio Boot Camp

Get back to basics with AM radio broadcast engineering

Radio World: It looks like AM is getting a lot of attention this year at the show. Milford Smith’s “RF Boot Camp” has some AM sessions and you’re involved with a whole group devoted exclusively to AM, “AM Radio Boot Camp,” Monday, April 13, starting at 10:30 a.m. Are rumors of AM’s demise premature?
Alan Jurison: Regardless of the rumors of AM’s demise, there are thousands of AM radio stations on the air, and as long as they remain on the air, the licensees must maintain them and be compliant with the FCC rules and regulations. The broadcast engineers employed by these stations are trusted in keeping the stations’ maintenance and legal.

Many of the RF engineers with extensive AM knowledge have retired or will be retiring shortly. And that has many bright people with engineering experience in other areas into having an AM station or more under their responsibility. We wanted to provide a workshop for these engineers to perhaps refamiliarize themselves with some the basic concepts of AM engineering. Many people have been familiar with the audio/studio side of things, IT side of things, or maybe a very good FM engineer, but they have not had a lot of recent AM experience. The goal behind this nearly all day course, over 5 1/2 hours of content when you exclude the breaks, is to immerse yourself in vital AM topics. Everything from the basics, to some more advanced items.

RW: Is there anything new under the sun in AM broadcasting?
Jurison: Plenty. There have been improvements in monitoring and proofing methods in the past few years, and many engineers do not have experience with them. There are also advancements in digital AM broadcasting that will be discussed.

RW: As you know, show attendees are very busy at the show. They may not be able to devote a whole day to your series of sessions. Assuming that they may not be committed to management or engineering, which session or pair of sessions would you recommend as “must-see”?
Jurison: Unless you work with AM on a near daily basis, I suspect most attendees will be surprised at some of the fundamentals they have forgotten. For those not very familiar with AM operations, I think attendees will get a well-rounded sense of what it takes to maintain and keep an AM station on the air and compliant with FCC rules. And establish knowledge to know when you run into deeper problems who you can ask for help. For those engineers who have been dealing with AM for a while and are familiar with it, I think these members of the audience will also learn quite a bit as well. The content will remind you of areas you might not have normally dealt with in your day-to-day duties.

RW: The sessions for this group are technical in an old-fashioned way — no IP stuff — but plenty of grounding, transmission discussion, monitoring and safety concerns. One could argue that AM really is back-to-basics radio.
Jurison: There are plenty of resources available for people to learn today’s IP-related technologies, both at the NAB Show, and also online learning, etc. This particular series of topics of AM, however, is not as widely available outside of this event. Where else can you get content from over 10 of the industry’s leading AM experts? This Broadcast Engineering Conference jumbo session is going to provide a breadth of content that will be hard to duplicate in any other venue. Also note, a lot of the IP-related content for radio is covered in sessions on Tuesday, so one not need to choose AM or IP.

RW: You’re keeping well-known consulting engineer Ben Dawson busy all day with participation in four sessions. “Can I Lease Space on My AM Tower?” sounds like an interesting talk, assuming the answer isn’t “No.”
Jurison: Ben, like everyone else on the panel has great experience with AM to share with the audience. We are thrilled to have him and all of the other panelists take the time to educate our industry on AM.

The “Can I Lease Space on my AM Tower” session you speak of will cover all the pros and cons doing such. And, perhaps, we will hear a brief summary of some of the new techniques that will be discussed in the full paper presentation on Thursday “New Tools to Co-Locate Wireless Facilities with AM Antennas.”

RW: It seems likely that the last session, “Digital Broadcasting on the AM Band: Is It Ready for Prime Time?” will be the one that gets the most attention. Can you give us a hint on the answer to the question?
Jurison: I think some of the hints will be presented on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with the “NAB Labs All-digital AM Field Test Project” paper that David Layer is presenting. The session on Monday will be a panel discussion that can feed off of the results that David will be presenting on Sunday.