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“We Look Forward to the Day of All-Digital AM”

Cris Alexander on all-digital AM

all-digital AMIn a recent ebook, Radio World explored the implications of allowing all-digital operation on the AM band in the United States. Here’s an excerpt in which Crawford Broadcasting Director of Engineering Cris Alexander shared his thoughts on the idea. Read the ebook here. Also, readers are invited to send a letter to the editor on this or any subject.

Crawford Broadcasting, owner of 15 AM stations, has invested in HD Radio on both FM and AM.

“In just the last two months, we replaced several AM transmitters with new ones that have integral HD Radio exciters,” said Director of Engineering Cris Alexander (who is also the tech editor of RW Engineering Extra). “We look forward to the day of all-digital AM and would likely take some all-simulcast AM stations 100% digital if the FCC made that an option.”

Alexander said Xperi data indicating that more than half of new cars in North America come with HD matches his experience with rental cars. “This tells me that we are headed toward a ‘critical mass’ of sorts.”

He said it’s way too early to think about switching AMs to all-digital at Crawford, “but we can certainly see a day out there somewhere, and we’re making investments today in preparation for that.”

[Finally, a Solution to the AM Problem]

However, another veteran engineering observer — who asked not to be named but works at a group with AM holdings — believes that at the root of the discussion is the underlying challenge AM is facing overall, and he was blunt about that.

“Whether it’s digital or not,” this engineer said, “no one is listening to it anymore. It’s the old person’s medium, like TV. Good content has moved to FM or the Internet. Not all, but most AM is running block programming or talk.”

The younger generation is not seeking programming on TV or AM, he said; they’re watching OTT services, cutting the cord and listening to podcasts and Spotify.

And though HD Radio penetration in cars is growing, he doesn’t think there’s a sufficient argument to go to his company’s leadership and say, “Let’s turn off the analog and broadcast digital only.” He also noted that the number of HD Radios in homes and offices remains small.

Still, he added, “I am curious to see how the all-digital signal performs and how it sounds. It could be a game-changer if it’s done right.”