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NAB: Time to Look Closely at All-Digital AM HD Radio

Move could help AM stations to retain and attract listeners, NAB says

It’s time for the Federal Communications Commission to formally look into allowing AM radio stations to voluntarily (and solely) broadcast in all-digital, so says the National Association of Broadcasters.

The NAB supports the comments submitted by Bryan Broadcasting, which asked the commission to initiate a proceeding that would look at allowing AM stations to solely operate in the MA3 all-digital mode of HD Radio service. According to a May 13 filing by the NAB, such a service would “provide substantially improved sound quality that could help AM stations to retain and attract listeners in the increasingly competitive audio marketplace.”

According to NAB, the combination of industry interest, experimental testing and real-world implementation of all-digital AM means the commission should consider revamping rules in a way that could help facilitate broadcasters’ voluntary transition to all-digital AM service.

[Read: FCC Wants Your Input on Digital-Only AM Proposal]

In March, Bryan Broadcasting Corp. asked the commission to initiate a proceeding to authorize an all-digital mode of HD Radio for interested AM radio stations. According to its petition, this kind of modernization would give AM broadcasters a “needed innovative tool with which to compete” without impairing other competitors in either the broadcasting or general spectrum-usage ecosystem.

The NAB filing detailed the technical challenges facing broadcasters, ranging from the proliferation of noise-causing devices like fluorescent light bulbs, computer monitors and other Part 15 devices. This higher noise floor is causing pervasive interference to AM radio stations, the NAB said.

“In turn, AM listenership and station revenue have significantly declined and show few signs of recovery,” the NAB said. “As [Bryan Broadcasting] explains, a voluntary transition to all-digital AM service could help to reverse this trend by enabling broadcasters to provide a pristine signal, free of the interference that plagues analog AM service and deters listeners.”

The NAB submission is part of a record of commentary from the industry on the issue.

Radio World recently published an ebook on the question “What’s Next for All-Digital AM?” Ben Downs of Bryan Broadcasting was among those commenting in that publication; the ebook includes comments from skeptics as well along with reviewing some of the obstacles to possible implementation.

Comments on the issue can be found in the FCC’s ECFS database using Media Bureau docket RN-11836.

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